Jeff Green | Nov 30, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - November 30, 2006
by Jean Griffin
Among my favourite animals are the flying squirrels, though I rarely see them. There are two species of these little creatures that live in this area - the Southern and the Northern. This is near the northern limit of the Southern Flying Squirrel habitat, which stretches down through the eastern states to East Texas and northern Florida. Conversely this is close to the southern limit of the territory of the Northern Flying Squirrel - from the southern portions of Alaska, Yukon and the territories right across Canada to Labrador and slipping down briefly into some of the states. Here in southern and eastern Ontario the area of the two species overlaps.
The first ones I ever saw were a family that had been living in a nest in a tree that was chopped down by a friend who did not know it was inhabited. He called us to see them. That was many years ago and it was not until just a few years ago that I chanced to look out my window one cold winter night to find one on my patio where some bird seed had fallen. For the rest of the winter I made sure there was a patch of seeds left out, and saw them many nights the rest of that season.
Sometimes there was one and occasionally two, but it was not until a following winter that I realized I had both species coming when I realized that the two squirrels on the patio were not quite the same. The smaller of the two was the Southern and this one was not very friendly - it quickly chased the other, the Northern, away.
Because they are nocturnal, even though they may be quite common, your chances of seeing them are limited, though if you tap on a tree stump which contains woodpecker holes you may have one appear. One year there was one or more that decided to use a bird house on the edge of the woods as home. Once I discovered this I would daily take over an unshelled peanut and place it on the edge of the opening. I think they liked my offering because it always disappeared, but at the end of the summer the squirrels left - I think there were too many peanut shells in their abode!
No, they don’t fly. They have folds of skin stretched between their fore and hind legs and when they jump with legs outstretched this is spread out and acts like a combination parachute-sail as they glide from the trunk of one tree to another, possibly 75 meters or more. By dropping its tail, lifting the forequarters and slackening the stretched skin a squirrel can land lightly on all four feet on the next tree, around which it will quickly scurry to the other side in case it has been followed by a predator.
Flying squirrels feed on nuts, acorns, seeds and berries; they also enjoy insects. They in turn can be victims of an owl, and I believe it was the presence of the squirrels that drew a Northern Saw-whet Owl to my patio, and, in fact, I saw both a squirrel and an owl at the same time one night. The squirrel left in a hurry, quickly followed by the owl - I don’t know what happened!