Many of you gardeners are squirrel haters (you know who you are), and maybe rightly so, because of the damage these critters do to your gardens and more likely, to your bird feeders.
As several of you might know, I believe in sharing with as many of the creatures trying to make a living, or just trying to live, in my garden.
One little squirrel you all might fancy, even if it visits your attic to keep warm and your bird feeder to eat, is the gentle and curious little flying squirrel. There are two flying squirrel species in the U.S.A. and Canada, the Northern flying squirrel, which is an endangered species, and the Southern flying squirrel, which is rare.
There are still viable communities of Southern flying squirrels pocketed in wooded areas, but their numbers continue to diminish with the clear cutting of woods to build people homes and shopping centers. Northern flyers have even less places to survive.
You seldom see these charming little animals with large luminous black eyes in your garden because they come out after dark. Even at twilight, you might not believe your eyes if you happen to see this tiny creature gliding from tree to tree. Southern species flying squirrels are only about 9 inches long; northern species are larger, about twelve inches. Their flat tail is half of their body length.
You may not even be aware of them visiting your feeders. Their preferred wild food is acorns and hickory nuts. They also will eat berries, insects, and seeds as well as suet at a bird feeder. To invite them to visit, place a platform feeder on a nearby tree and refill it every evening near sundown with large striped sunflower seeds.
Called ‘Frisbees in fur’ by National Geographic, they don’t really fly but glide through the air from tree to tree or tree to ground. They launch and spread their four legs, opening the furred thin skin connected from the front ankle to the rear ankle on either side of the body. They become an effective wing, able to glide downward, steering as if they’re on a hang-glider and using their flat tail as a rudder.
They land on the side of a tree, heads up, and then zip to the other side. This behavior is a lifesaver in case an owl is in close pursuit. Flying squirrels are extremely vulnerable to predators when they are on the ground. Well-meaning owners who let their cats outdoors at night also open the door to the slaughter of these little creatures.
Flying squirrels prefer living in an area of old trees where they can nest in natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker nest holes. They will also nest in birdhouses and at times in attics or under eaves if their natural habitat has been lost. In the winter, they will huddle together in a large group inside a cavity or box to keep warm
They will quickly move into a nest box or huddle box (aggregate box) made especially for them. There is a link below to nest box and group nesting plans.*
Efforts are underway in some areas to help these tiny creatures survive.**
It would be a sad world if the only creatures left alive to visit our gardens were cockroaches and the only way we could see animals would be to visit factory farms. You can help just by keeping your pets indoors at night and keeping poisons out of your garden. Help even more by feeding and housing these creatures of the night.
By John Kauffman, Ph.D. for TruGreen
Photographs courtesy of TruGreen
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