Although founded specifically for wild birds the
Hospital also cares for small mammals.
Most of the small mammals treated at Gower Bird
Hospital are hedgehogs.
They arrive suffering from breathing problems caused
by infections or lungworm, and skin problems such as
ringworm or injuries. The injuries are often caused by
strimmers or other garden tools. The hedgehog may have been
run over or caught up in plastic can holders or rubber
bands dropped by the postman.
Every year Gower Bird Hospital receives hedgehogs
which have been trapped in steep sided garden ponds. The
poor hedgehog has usually been struggling to get out all
night and is eventually spotted and rescued the next
day. These hedgehogs arrive exhausted, very cold and
with a good chance of pneumonia through inhaling the
water. These accidents could be so easily avoided by
providing ramps for the hedgehog to climb out or by
designing the pond with natural sloping edges.
baby hedgehogs are brought to the Hospital. Usually the
nest has been disturbed and the mother has had to
abandon them or has been killed on the road. The hoglets
are often cold and dehydrated. The treatment unit
provides essential heat pads and heat lamps and staff
can administer body replacement fluids if necessary.
The youngsters are then hand fed with
milk substitute and toiletted until they are big
enough to start eating mealworms and cat food.
Toiletting is very important as a very young hedgehog
does not pass urine or droppings of its own accord and
must be encouraged to do so by gentle wiping with damp
cotton wool simulating the mum cleaning the baby.
(Remember never give cows milk to hedgehogs as it
can cause enteritis).
More than 300 hedgehogs arrive every year and the
Hospital also treats other species such as bats, voles,
shrews, weasels, stoats and even toads and frogs.
After three or four weeks, when they have increased
in weight to about 300g and can
maintain their own body temperature without the heat
pad, they are transferred from the treatment unit to the
rehabilitation runs outside. Here they have a chance to
dig in the earth and grass and start learning to find
their own food. After spending a week or so in the rehab
runs and when we have made sure that they are gaining
weight, sleeping all day and active at night, they are
ready for a soft release.
The runs have a
sleeping compartment and a mesh-lidded area allowing
access to the natural ground. At the end of the run is a
small door. This allows the hedgehog to explore outside
and return to a safe nest for the day. Food is still
supplied in case they havent managed to find enough
natural food. Several times, a hedgehog has continued to
use the sleeping area but ignored the food. When weighed
we found the hedgehog had increased in weight so was
obviously feeding well in the wild but still needed the
day nest. After a few days, the hedgehog doesnt
return to the run at all.
where are they and are they coping in the wild? The
young hedgehogs have been hand reared and have had no
natural mother to show them the tricks of the trade. To
answer this question Gower Bird Hospitals hedgehog
radio tracking project started in 2001.
A transmitter is fitted to the back of the hedgehog
like the bird tags, this will also moult off with
the spines and is not permanent. After fitting the
transmitter, the hedgehog is observed using infrared
light and CCTV to ensure the tag is not causing any
distress before release. Another student from Swansea
University, Stam, then began the heroic task of
following the tagged hedgehogs through the night!
During August of 2001, Stam tracked four hedgehogs every
night from dusk until dawn for 21 nights. Using infrared
light, he was able to observe their natural behaviour
without disturbing them. Before dawn every morning they
would make a nest to sleep for the day. The summer day
nests are not as robust as the hibernaculum built to
hibernate over winter.
One female youngster was followed
until November when she made a very solid hibernaculum
under a pampas grass plant in a garden and hibernated
Three of the four hedgehogs explored and settled into
the surrounding area with appropriate caution, covering
an area of about half a square mile. They foraged during
the night and although they had walked three or four
miles remained in much the same area, building the day
nests in various places.
However, one female had other ideas on her first
night of freedom, she set off and left Sandy Lane,
travelled across the golf course and made a perfect day
nest under a gorse bush. The next night she crossed a
main road and eventually settled down for the day in a
garden in the village of Southgate. On the third night she left
Southgate via Hael Lane and headed into Bishopston
Valley where Stam lost her signal! A day of frantic
tracking still produced no signal had she fallen off
the cliffs or into the river? The next day we found her
back in the middle of Southgate village sleeping contentedly in
a garden in Heatherslade Close.
All the hedgehogs did well and managed perfectly in
the wild. They gained weight and had an excellent chance
of surviving hibernation.
An interesting observation was the use of nests. One
hedgehog would wake in the evening, forage for a couple
of hours then go to a different day nest to sleep for an
hour. He then woke, fed again and chose a different nest
to spend the day, clearly enjoying his freedom of choice, and demonstrating
bimodal nocturnal activity!