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Flying Squirrels

I live in the inner ‘burbs, in a neighborhood with a lot of old native trees.  I have large tulip poplars, oaks, a beech and pignut hickories on a small lot.  We have the usual creatures of the night meandering through the neighborhood after lights out (which for me is pretty early): roving gangs of deer, plug-ugly possums, garbage-can-tipping raccoons and furtive foxes are regularly sighted.  Recently seen, though, and to me pretty exciting, are flying squirrels.

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve gone out to the back deck to check on the grill, since I use it year round, and there was a flying squirrel peeking at me around the side of a tree trunk, about 15 feet up.  They are little gray guys with big buggy eyes, like a Japanese Anime character, or Peter Lorre. (Sorry, I don’t know anyone more “current” with buggy eyes. Maybe Susan Sarandon.)  They quickly scoot around to the other side of the tree.  I have yet to see them “fly.”  They actually glide like a hang-glider, as they have webbing between their front and back legs; they jump, extend their legs, and glide as far as 150 feet.

This is so cool.

It’s about twenty years since the last time we had flying squirrels in the yard.  A pair had moved into a wren house I had put up, but it didn’t last long.  I think they were evicted by the local gray squirrels, because the entrance to the wren house was all chewed up and the flying squirrels were gone. If not gray squirrels, then maybe zombies.

I am told that my visitors are officially Southern Flying Squirrels and they are as common as the gray squirrels (in areas with a good population of established nut-producing trees like oaks), but harder to spot because they are nocturnal and they tend to stay in the trees, and fairly high up at that.  And like other animals they can get into attics and be a nuisance. When available, they prefer to eat insects, but rely on nuts in the winter.

So, short of drilling a big access hole to the attic, how do I attract them to my yard and when should I look for them? For the handy, you can build nest boxes; there are plans available online at multiple websites.  That seems like too much work.

An easier suggestion is to attach a feeding platform (aka a board) to the trunk of a tree at about five feet elevation. (Low enough to reach, but high enough to give some protection from cats, etc.)  Place acorns or other nuts, suet, or peanut butter on the platform just after dusk, and see what happens.  Apparently they don’t mind the area being lit as long as the light isn’t shining right in their buggy eyes and they are most active about an hour after dark.  This seems like something I can do.

If you already have a platform bird feeder, they may already be coming into the feeder at night. Take a look in early evening and see if anything is looking back at you.

 

Two websites I recommend:

The blog of a naturalist from our area: http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2015/02/southern-flying-squirrels.html

To see a video of flying squirrels gliding: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/weirdest-flying-squirrel

 

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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