GLIDERS OF THE NIGHT
Most of us are familiar with the gray squirrel that is found in parks and backyards but did you know there is a squirrel, also found in parks and backyards, that flies? They do not fly with wings as birds do but glide through the air with a web of skin connecting their wrist to their ankle, called apatagium. This excess web of skin is easily observed in this photo.
Flying squirrels like to eat nuts, seeds, insects, bird eggs, flower buds, mushrooms and fungi.
Usually the flying squirrel nests in cavities in old trees but occasionally will build a leaf nest called a drey, like the gray squirrel, or use a nest box.
Build a flying squirrel nest box for shelter and place it on tree in your own neck of the woods and try to attract them with food, and a source of water.
In this picture, the nature walk guide opened up the nest box.
In winter, many flying squirrels of varying ages will occupy one cavity or nest box to maintain warm body temperatures during the cold. When supplying nest boxes, it is important to put up more than one box, so the squirrels can chose among them. Once you know your boxes have squirrel families residing in them, give them their space, as you would any wild animal, otherwise the squirrels may relocate.
Flying squirrels are nocturnal and because of this they have extra-long whiskers, better for touching things in the dark, keen eyesight, and very sharp hearing. Because they are nocturnal, the flying squirrel is a preferred food for nocturnal predators like eastern screech owls, great horned owls, martens, foxes and coyotes. Of course, squirrels also fall prey to snakes, hawks, and domestic cats.
The best way to see flying squirrels is on a guided night hike in an area where they are known to live. Reach out to your local state park for more information on night hikes and ask about the kinds of animals seen. Each February at the Eagle Festival in Mauricetown, NJ, a guided walk is taken along the Glades Wildlife Refuge. If you’re lucky, you might just see a flying squirrel.
Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.