Few people are familiar with flying squirrels. In fact, many have never even seen one because they’re nocturnal. Those that have were likely introduced by accident: someone may have disturbed a snag or den tree in daylight and several smallish, bug-eyed creatures bailed out, glided to the nearest tree and scurried to the top to escape danger. I fell into that category, until a late evening call from a friend several years ago. It was summer, and he said “get over here, I just put some feed out and there’s something I want you to see; and bring your camera”.
For well over an hour I stood next to the mature oak and hemlock trees in his back yard, staring at the feeding platforms attached to two of the trees. I watched in amazement as flying squirrels glided in from the darkness and from tree to tree, fed, scurried into and out of feeders and bolted up, down and around tree trunks. Movements were lightning-quick. When squirrels were not in a stationary position, I rarely photographed what I saw. An attempt at a photo of one could result in an actual image of 4. A group shot often ended up with an image of an empty feeder or various blurred body parts on the edge of the frame! Normal behavior for them I suppose, but my thought was that of complete chaos! As it got darker, the number of squirrels, like the mosquitoes, increased. I remember 10 or 12, but counting was a bit of a challenge. It was an enlightening experience to say the least. I’ve made dozens of trips since then, never tiring of the show or the opportunity to learn something about these fascinating creatures of the night. Oh, and I learned a thing or two about photographing critters in the dark too!
If bird feeders are maintained regularly on a property in close proximity to forestland with mature trees, there’s a chance that flying squirrels will eventually be discovered gliding into the feeders just after sunset. Large trees are essential habitat, providing launching and landing sites, cavities in tree trunks and large limbs for den sites, and an abundance of fruit for food. Aided by furred membranes between the legs, a flattened tail and large eyes, flying squirrels can glide 40 or 50 feet with ease, much greater distances under certain conditions.
Everybody loves sunflower seeds but in the wild, flying squirrels are opportunistic feeders, eating just about anything, including nuts, fruit, fungi, insects, mice and carrion.
When not out and about at night, flying squirrels live in tree hollows or cavities, often using woodpecker holes. They’ll build several nests, scattered over an acre or so, which provide shelter as well as a place to raise their young. They’re gregarious and, incredibly, there may be as many as 40 or 50 in a large cavity den.
All photos by NB Hunter