Flying squirrels will eat a variety of foods, including birdseed.

Flying squirrels glide in



“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!” The old popular song was right on this week and fit right in with the snow dropped everywhere. I saw a photo taken in Northern Maine of a moose standing on top of a car buried in deep snow next to someone’s house. Deer definitely have trouble moving about in this deep snow. My small dog was not happy about the deep snow and clearly blamed me for it. A snow’s depth is important to humans and wildlife and definitely affects their lives.

Flying squirrels visited some friends of mine, and they came sailing into the feeder with no trouble. They are not really flying, of course, but their bodies are built for gliding, and they are experts at it. I have seen them gliding on a moonlit night in our Maine woods, and it is an exciting sight. They climb up in a big tree and then launch themselves into a beautiful and graceful glide to the ground or another tree. Seeing them do this on a moonlit night is very special. If they live near you, they often will glide from a large tree to your feeder or the roof of your house. A light on at your feeder does not seem to bother them, so you can actually watch them with ease.

This small mammal has big beautiful eyes, a broad, flattened tail and lovely soft cinnamon-brown fur all over its body. They are gentle, social creatures. The flying squirrels that we see here prefer seeds, but they also eat bark, leaves, tree buds, lichens, fungi, maple sap, insects and even bird’s eggs. They also love peanut butter spread on a log.

These interesting squirrels use their gliding membrane, a loose fold of skin fully furred on both sides, which extends from the outside of the “wrist” on the front legs to the “ankles” of the hind legs. With this membrane and the broad, flat tail they have, they can glide from a high place to a lower place. I hope you get to see them this winter.

Snowshoe hares with their white hair now enjoy more safety from their many predators. They have no trouble moving about in the snow with their snowshoe-like back feet keeping them from sinking in. The hare’s big feet also have hairs on the soles. They get around in the snow with ease pretty much unseen in a snowy landscape.

I have had many phone calls and emails about the numbers of blue jays and cardinals coming to feeders these winter days. Our colorful residents are so beautiful in the snow. Several eagles together in a tree also have been the subject of my emails. No matter how many times you see an eagle, it is always impressive. Several together are even more so.

Another note I had told me of a roadkill deer carcass that had been dragged out for the birds to enjoy, and they came in abundance. Death of a mammal as large as a deer in the winter provides a great deal of food for many forms of wildlife from small mice to large mammals. This is very important in the winter at a time when food is scarce and harder to find.

Flocks of robins have been spotted feeding on berry-bearing shrubs. I suspect that these are Canadian robins that have come here for the winter and not any returning flocks from the south at this time. Canadian robins tend to look darker than the robins that nest here then head south for the winter.

Courtship is in full swing now for several forms of wildlife. Coyotes are howling their serenades, flying squirrels are courting, and red squirrels are mating. Male raccoons are looking for prospective mates. Although male raccoons will mate with several females, the male often will stay with one female until their young are born. Minks also are into mating now and will vigorously fight off any competition.

River otters also are amorous now, with male otters moving about and locating the scent marks the females have left here and there in their territories to let them know they are “ready.” A friend and I noticed an otter trail in the snow on one of our winter walks. Pairing is only for mating, for afterwards, each otter goes its separate way. If you’re lucky enough to see an otter family at play, it is great fun, for they are very playful. My daughter and I discovered a young otter sitting on a dock one afternoon last summer, so we quietly sat down not far off and watched it. The young one seemed unconcerned about our presence and continued to groom its fur and enjoy what it was doing. They are great fun to see and watch.

If you hear a cough-like bark some day or night when you are outside, it probably is a red fox out on the prowl for his mate. Foxes do not seem to be afraid of your presence when they are courting, and you may have some nice views of these beautiful mammals.

Although in some areas both red and gray foxes are found, we only have red foxes here on Mount Desert Island. If a den is near your home, you may get to see the kits playing and learning about being foxes. Several years ago, red foxes made a den under the roots an upturned tree next to the trail in Ship Harbor. Each night, a number of interested people came to watch them play, feed and interact from a short distance away. The young foxes played near the den and always were excited when a parent brought back some sort of roadkill for their food.

Signs of a new season and warmer days to come are with us even if we are covered with snow and the temperatures are low.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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