2. Popina

There are a number of animals that compete for the food I intend for hedgehogs. These include neighbourhood dogs, a proliferation of uncontrolled domestic cats, the scourge of British wildlife, rats, mice and other small rodents, squirrels and the occasional fox. Some are eliminated by diurnal habits, but not all. Animals smaller than hedgehogs will inevitably be able to access whatever food I make available for the humble urchins. Excluding animals bigger than hedgehogs is comparatively simple although it has taken a while to exclude all the cats as will become apparent.

I have established a fixed place at which to feed hurcheons. In the past, at least one has come right up to the back door of the house, so I decided to habituate them to a spot some 10 feet west of our back door and built a ‘dining’ area which is over-looked by windows. In fact I have built several such ‘diners’ in an attempt to outwit the cats. But first, the naming of parts.

Any self-respecting hurcheon overwinters in a hibernaculum. With a name like Erinaceus europaeus it should come as no surprise that your average urchin is a classicist (and a better one than I Gunga Din). Hence their winter quarters are hibernacula and not, as many tv presenters would have it, ‘hedgehog hotels’ or any such infantilism. Your average hurcheon is not very grand; they have fleas after all. Their arrangements for dining, rather than running to the sumptuous triclinium and ruining their digestions lolling about on couches indulging in finger-food, tend rather to fast food on the hoof. A quick bite here, a slurp of something there and “sorry! must dash; got a worm to catch.” What a human might call a ‘snack-bar’, Erinaceus europaeus would call a popina – a serendipitous word happily conveying the casual nature of the business in hand and the need for speed and a word which, without further ado, I anglicize as popin. I constructed mine from concrete components – the popin that is, rather than the word.

A number of people on the internet advocate using a plastic storage box in which they “cut a hole of about 4 or 5 inches.” In my experience, of which more anon, those dimensions are far too lax. Some adult cats will easily get through a hole 4″ x 5″. Also use of plastic is a no-no. Apart from environmental objections, such boxes are too light-weight and easily blown over unless weighted down. They would fall easy prey to vigorous investigation by dogs, foxes and some cats, let alone badgers – but fortunately for the current population of hurcheons, badgers locally resemble hens’ teeth.

I opted to use 4″ pre-cast concrete lintels and bricks to give a ‘ceiling’ height of about 4″ under a roof of 16″ x 12″ interlocking cement roof tiles all of which I had ‘in stock’. I began as in the image below with a structure 2 tiles wide (i.e. 32″) built against a wall at the back, closed at the front with an entrance at both ends measuring about 9″ wide by 4″ high.

The sludge on the ground is ‘Hedgehog Food.’ They disagreed.

One disadvantage of using only two tiles was that placing the food in the centre – to get it as far beyond a cat’s reach from either end as possible – inevitably meant there was a crack above the food through which water could penetrate and spoil whatever food was there. More seriously, leaving the two ends ‘open’ presented at least one local cat with no challenge at all as can be seen in this first clip.

The cat above is known as Quasimodo on account of its somewhat hunchbacked appearance. At least two other cats are regular visitors but neither of them has gone to the lengths to which Quasimodo is prepared to go to deprive the hedgehogs of their dinner. Even an adult hurcheon has to duck to enter as can be seen in this second clip.

In view of Quasimodo’s athleticism I enlarged the overall length to 3 tiles (about 48″ in all) to put food placed in the centre of the popin beyond easy reach of a cat on the outside, and choked both ends with brick to reduce the entrances to about 5” wide in an attempt to ensure that that was where cats remained; outside. In the image below, I had removed the middle tile to serve up the main course. The customer is an adult male known to his admirers as Mac (as in macula) because of a dark spot on his right flank. He seems unperturbed by such unmannerly intrusions.

Mac tucking in to proper food; dried cat biscuits – because he has not yet cottoned on to the pet mince that has just arrived. It disappeared in short order.

Having already cracked the 5″ entry, Quasimodo, after several inspections and having given the matter considerable thought, was recorded as still able to creep through the entrance which had been reduced to about 4″ high by 4¼” wide. The things some moggies get up to when their owners are tucked up safe in bed. But you have to admire the reversing.

The gap at each end is now currently about 4” x 4”. The hurcheons continue to zip in and out. Quasimodo has inspected the new arrangement with a mournful air but has as yet been unable or unwilling to have another go at the holy of holies. Cats and hurcheons occasionally appear on camera together but seem content to ignore one another. If anything, the cats seem more wary of the urchins than the urchins are of them. I have a clip of Quasimodo looking in disgust at Mac as he approaches the popin before beating a hasty retreat from the approaching schiltron.

There are at least 4 different urchins that visit regularly. Occasionally they meet on camera. They seem quite sensitive to the presence of fellow hurcheons and appear more cautious of them, as shown below, than of the close presence of cats. How often the camera fails to record such meetings will be the subject of the next post.

First to enter above is a young male, The Loon, who is rightly alert. It is Mac who then charges in, his trademark to the fore, and puts the boot in before retiring for a stiff drink. The Loon remained schtum for about a quarter of an hour. You can’t be too careful if you’re an urchin. I can reassure those of a sensitive disposition that The Loon was, and remains, apparently unharmed and undeterred by that and subsequent kickings administered by Mac.