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Rocky the flying squirrel

Posted 7/14/23

  I recently made another rare critter observance at our new house in Eldred. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Eastern Box Turtle I found in the yard, and this week is another curious critter. …

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Rocky the flying squirrel


 I recently made another rare critter observance at our new house in Eldred. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Eastern Box Turtle I found in the yard, and this week is another curious critter. 

I was doing some yard work on our lawn when I got a text message on my phone. Because it was so bright out, I had to step under a tree to get some shade to read my phone. Once I read my incoming text and replied, I took a look up to see an old birdhouse that was put up by the previous homeowner. There are about eight of these birdhouses around, and I haven’t seen a single bird use any of them all spring, but this one was occupied. There was a rodent in this birdhouse. But because it was so high I couldn’t see exactly what I was looking at, so I took out my phone again so that I could use the camera to zoom in the birdhouse. What I saw looking back at me was a cute little Flying Squirrel. 

Of course I had to name him or her, Rocky, as I did grow up watching Rocky and Bullwinkle on TV. Although unlike the Rocky on TV, my Rocky the flying squirrel, might more appropriately be called “gliding squirrel” because he isn’t capable of true powered flight like a bird or a bat can do. Flying squirrels glide, as they have a special membrane between their front and back legs that allows them to glide through the air between trees. When a flying squirrel wants to travel to another tree without touching the ground, it launches itself from a high branch and spreads out its limbs so the gliding membrane is exposed. It uses slight movements of the legs to steer, and the tail acts as a brake upon reaching its destination. Flying squirrels can cover more than 150 feet in a single glide. Thanks to their superb gliding abilities, flying squirrels are great escape artists. 

Once a flying squirrel lands on a tree trunk following a flight, it promptly scurries to the other side of the trunk to avoid any predators that may have followed it. Nevertheless, owls, hawks, and climbing mammals, like a neighborhood cat, frequently manage to catch and consume these tiny rodents. Flying squirrels were once common rodents in many parts of the country, but because they are nocturnal, few people ever see them. I haven’t seen a flying squirrel since I was eighteen years old at a friend’s house in Neversink and that was many moons ago. Two subspecies of northern flying squirrel are now federally listed as endangered due to habitat loss. 

An extensive study in Pennsylvania conducted from 2003 through 2007 found only 33 northern flying squirrels. Most known sites are in the Pocono region, with the exception of one in Warren County and one in Potter County. Flying squirrels are omnivores. They eat a variety of foods, including seeds, nuts, fungi, fruit, and insects. So now I’ll have to put up a new flying squirrel feeder to make sure Rocky stays well fed for the winter. I might also give a call to the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Liberty to report Rocky to them in case they are keeping track of flying squirrel populations in Sullivan County. They track many things at CCE like Spotted Lantern Flies, Emerald Ash Borers and Giant Hogweed, so if you see any of these, give them a call at 845-292-6180. Finding new critters every month or so has made my yard care much more interesting this year.


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