Chickens, bees and birds appreciate humans making shelters for them, but they're not the only ones.
Hedgehogs, those spiny mammals valued among British gardeners for their cuteness and pest control prowess, also appreciate cozy and comfy man-made homes. And now, thanks to a survey conducted by the Hedgehog Street organization, we know exactly what kind of houses hedgehogs prefer to call home.
"Until now we didn't know what type of hedgehog house was best for hedgehogs, and if they were even really used at all, as this area of hedgehog ecology simply hadn't been studied," Emily Wilson, hedgehog officer for Hedgehog Street, said.
Won't you be their neighbor?
Last year, Hedgehog Street, a joint campaign run by the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society that promotes hedgehog conservation in Great Britain, launched a study to determine how, when and why hedgehogs used housing in Britain, and whether or not they preferred homemade or artificial, pre-constructed housing.
From around the country, 5,273 people chose to respond to Hedgehog Street's survey, and their replies were analyzed and compiled by the University of Reading. Some respondents did skip certain questions, including a question about how hedgehogs used the available housing, perhaps because they simply didn't know or observe the specified behaviors. Of those that did respond to that particular question, 81 percent found that the hedgehogs used their specialized houses for resting, another 59 percent said they noticed the hedgehogs using them for hibernation and 28 percent reported that the hedgehogs used the houses for breeding.
So the houses appear to be a multi-use abode for the mammals, which means that if the house is comfy enough, they'll make it a den for themselves, their mates and offspring.
As for what kinds of homes the hedgehogs like, they didn't seem overly picky. They preferred homemade houses (38 percent of respondents made their own houses), but they don't turn up their noses at store-bought (used by 62 percent of respondents), so don't feel bad if you're not crafty. They prefer it when their home is in a sheltered area in the back of the garden, however.
Abigail Gazzard, a postgraduate researcher for the University of Reading who worked on the analysis, explains, "Further analysis is required to investigate why hedgehogs seem to prefer homemade houses to artificial ones. This could be to do with the type of materials they are made from, its physical size or whether it has other features such as tunnels and internal partitions, so the next step for us is to look into this aspect specifically."
Don't worry about relocating yourself or your pet, however. If the hedgehog home is located close, less than 5 meters (16 feet) from the human home, the hedgehogs didn't seem to mind. Similarly, a pet or even a badger on the premises didn't seem to deter hedgehogs from becoming neighbors. This suggests that hedgehogs are acclimating to the presence and behaviors of humans and their pets.
"These results tell us that hedgehog houses are helping 'hogs find a place to rest, hibernate and even breed," Wilson said. "We can use these results to help conserve these animals and give the most accurate advice to anyone wanting to provide shelter for wild hedgehogs through our Hedgehog Street campaign."
"It's interesting to see that hedgehogs seem to prefer houses that have been in a garden for some time," Wilson continued, "but we hope that people won't be disheartened if they have a newer hedgehog house, it just means hedgehogs need a little time to get used to it."