Nature: Flying squirrels by moonlight



An email came in this week asking me to write about flying squirrels. I do so with pleasure, for they are one of favorite mammals living on this island. Because they are nocturnal, flying squirrels don’t get seen as often as our other daytime squirrels, but many of them live here. Sometimes you are aware of their presence when you hear a strange sound on your roof some night as one glides in from a nearby tree.

A good way to see them is to leave a light on your feeder, well supplied with sunflower seeds and/or peanut butter, at night. A light doesn’t bother these appealing little mammals and you can watch them easily.

In spite of their name, flying squirrels do not fly, of course, but they do glide about from one high place to a lower spot using skin attached from the “wrists” of the front legs and to the “ankles” of the back legs. They glide gracefully and easily from the top of a tree to the ground or some from any high object to a lower position. My favorite sighting of them was on the path between Jordan Pond and the Little Long Pond trail. There are many large trees on the side of the carriage roads there and we watched the flying squirrels gliding back and forth in the moonlight.

Red squirrels and gray squirrels are seen all over the island. Red squirrels are often noisy and seen frequently at your feeders. Gray squirrels often visit your feeder and are seen running across the lawn or nearby roads. They are very industrious. Flying squirrels are very gregarious nighttime mammals and not as often seen. They are gentle, social creatures with soft, cinnamon-brown fur, big eyes and a broad flattened tail. I once found just the tail on the ground in the woods, and it made me think right away of one of these mammals trying to get along without such an important part of its body. Its broad flattened tail is important as it ‘flies’ on its gliding membrane through the air.

Flying squirrels prefer seeds but they also eat bark, leaves, tree buds, lichens, fungi, maple sap, insects, bird’s eggs and fledglings.

The flying squirrels, in turn, are eaten by owls, foxes, weasels, goshawks and domestic cats. Look for these delightful mammals where there are big trees.

Northern flying squirrels are active in temperatures at least as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. On windy nights, they stay in their dens. They seem to produce two litters a year; one in early June and the other in late August. The number of young is often four or five. Watch and listen for them at night around your house if you have big trees nearby. They are charming mammals!

At Christmas, I received a game camera and am now in the process of having it set up. I’m anxious to discover what creatures may be around that I don’t know about. Friends in Trenton put such a camera up near a roadside deer kill that had been dragged into their field, and they captured wonderful photos of a bobcat family, three young and the parents. During another night earlier in the season, they had a mother bear and two cubs coming for apples.

Game cameras are used all over the world to see what is moving about at night. One friend had such a camera facing a log going across a small stream. Photos taken in one night clearly showed deer, bobcat, skunks, bear, raccoons, beaver and a porcupine making use of the log. On a trip in Belize, one year, the game camera where I was staying there showed wild pigs and a jaguar.

When it is too cold to hike about these winter days, take yourself down to the shore in your car and watch for winter birds out on the water. You need binoculars or a scope but you are surely going to see some nice birds. If you’ve wondered about birds getting cold feet, it’s nice to know they have veins in their feet for keeping them warm. Unless a bird gets oil on its feathers or is injured, the cold water is not a problem.

Northern fulmars are seen at this time in the ocean but are a little ways out from land. This bird is gull-like, but it is not a gull. Fulmars rarely range far from the sight of land, but this bird spends most of its time on the ocean. If you see one, don’t try to get too close, for they have an interesting habit of “throwing up” a nasty-smelling liquid if you do. Fulmars are hardy birds.

Like some other sea birds, fulmars have tubenoses. This tubenose enables them to drink sea water. During the winter, fulmars roam about seeking small fish to eat. Fishing boat workers know this bird well, for the birds follow them for scraps.

Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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