During the winter months after the cardinals’ feast at dusk flying squirrels use to materialize like magic gliding through the pines. If the foxes were about, they stayed treed and quite invisible.

On fox nights I used to put out more seed and stand at the door with my flashlight until I noticed a slight movement in the pines. My presence   and the flashlight didn’t seem to bother my little friends who ate first and then spent about a half an hour climbing or gliding gracefully in between tree limbs or onto the ground or snow. What amazed me was how friendly these little mammals were. I could walk right up to them.

In the summers I looked for habitat evidence and usually could find at least one nest, and noted the marks on the poplar tree that had a good -sized knothole in it. I never did figure out what the relationships were between those glossy bug- eyed little squirrels but they all got along and each year I had about a dozen. I assumed that I probably had more than one family.

Those days are long gone now. Most animals around here have disappeared, probably because there isn’t enough surrounding forest left to support abundant wildlife.

Happily, I still have at least two flying squirrels who might be living in a nest on one of the top house logs. When I let the dogs out after dark, I can walk within inches of the one that routinely sits on one of the feeders protected by a roof while the other snacks upside down on the cylinder.

Flying squirrels once existed across a large swath of North and Central America, except for sparsely treed places like deserts, grasslands, and tundra. They’ve adapted to a wide range of forests in dramatically different climates on this continent, from Honduras to Quebec and Florida to Alaska. Now with the loss of so many mature woodlands their lives are changing. Without trees to nest in some choose human habitats and this of course turns them into ‘problem’ animals that need to be eradicated. Ironic when humans created the problem in the first place.


Some research indicates that it is possible to find flying squirrels outdoors at night because they apparently make a cheeping or chirping noise, a sound I have never heard. However, I have heard the peculiar whoosh that indicates a flying squirrel has landed somewhere near my head when I have been night walking.

Most flying squirrel species live in Asia (90 percent). Asia has played a key role in flying-squirrel history with dense forests offering both a refuge and a diversification center. These habitats may have saved flying squirrels during glacial periods, and helped them evolve into new species.

Today all flying squirrels face growing threats from large-scale deforestation and human-induced climate change, both of which are happening far more quickly than the natural changes ancient flying squirrels endured.

In Maine we have two species, the North and Southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus/olans). Both are almost identical in appearance.

Huddling for warmth can be so important for flying squirrels during the winter that they are known to share their nests not only with each other but with other types of wildlife including bats and even screech owls! Despite inhabiting frigid forests in places like Canada, Finland, and Siberia, flying squirrels don’t hibernate. Instead, they become less active in cold weather, spending more time in their nests and less time foraging.

Flying squirrels are omnivores eating a wide range of foods including nuts, fruit, flowers, seeds, tree sap buds, insects, flowers, and eggs. The Northern version apparently likes fungi and certain lichens, resulting in a preference for moist mature conifer stands with hemlock fir and spruce. Beech and maples are also favored, and if my historical population isn’t an exception they also like white pines. Rotting wood on the forest floor also contains excellent edible tidbits.


Although they are awkward on their feet, these squirrels are also known to scavenge for buried fungi like truffles. They have an acute sense of smell. Scientists have confirmed that the spores of some lichens and fungi pass through squirrel digestive tracts  aiding the spread of spores. Flying squirrels help to shape the habitat of any forest ecosystem by planting seeds and providing food for native predators like owls, coyotes, and gray/red foxes.

Mating occurs in February or March, but the one to six hairless defenseless babies aren’t born until April or May (lots of inconsistencies in the research). Their ears open within two to six days of birth, and they develop some fur after about a week. Squirrel eyes don’t open for at least three weeks, and they remain dependent on their mothers for several months. Females care for their young in the nest and nurse them for roughly two and a half months which is an unusually long time for a small mammal. The young ‘fly’ at two months become independent around four months unless they are born later in the summer. Southern flying squirrels may have two litters, in which case the young usually overwinter as a family.

Mothers also maintain several secondary nests, where they can flee with their offspring if the main nest site becomes too dangerous.

Although these squirrels don’t really fly, they can glide an impressive distance in the air from 60 – 300 feet. They can also make 180 degree turns. The furry, parachute-like membrane between a flying squirrel’s front and back limbs is known as a patagium (ia). These flaps catch air as the squirrel falls, letting it propel itself forward instead of plummeting to earth. But to make sure the patagia catch enough air, flying squirrels also have cartilage spurs at each wrist that can be extended almost like an extra finger, stretching out the patagia farther than the squirrel’s tiny arms could on their own. Their flat tails act as rudders.


When a flying squirrel wants to reach a tree that’s beyond jumping distance, it just boldly leaps out into the night, extends its limbs, including wrist spurs, stretching out its patagia so the squirrel starts to glide. When landing  on the trunk of a tree, little squirrel grips the bark with its claws, often scurrying to the other side to avoid any predator that might have seen the glide.



Although I have yet to witness this phenomenon, flying squirrels evidently fluoresce pink (!) glowing more strongly underneath, but no one knows why.

The life expectancy of flying squirrels in the wild is about six years.  Predators include snakes, raccoons, owls (especially the Northern Spotted owl), martens, fishers, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and house cats.

If you are fortunate to live in a wooded area or have large trees around your house, you may still have a good chance of getting a glimpse of these adorable little squirrels just after dark especially if you have bird feeders.




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