|A Southern Flying Squirrel in its typical head-down escape position.|
|Southern Flying Squirrel cuttings. Note the singular smooth-edged opening per nut.|
Flying squirrels do not actually "fly" but rather glide using their skin flaps (called a patagium) and flattened tails as airfoils (they do not actually steer with their tails, despite this being widely quoted). They are among the most accomplished gliders in the world, capable of glides up to 100 yards (though preferring much shorter distances). I've seen them maneuver deftly around trees and even completely change directions to land at the base of the same tree they took off from. Catchcing them in flight, no matter how brief, is indeed a memorable experience. Flying squirrels typically quickly flip to the opposite side of the trunk immediately upon landing, using the tree as a shield in case they are pursued by an owl (a tactic I've been lucky enough to see work on several occasions). They also usually hang head-down on the darkest side of trees so they can easily simply release and be in the best position to glide to safety. As a general rule, for every two feet high they get, they can get close to one foot in gliding distance.
|Flying Squirrel raiding a bird feeder.|
I have had great results in conducting evening programs observing these charismatic creatures feeding and gliding. I actually started the programs at the nature center I used to work at and have conducted regional and national trainings on conducting these types of programs at other centers as well. Long Branch Nature Center became well known for its flying squirrels, being featured in numerous newspaper articles and even on Animal Planet. "Fairy Diddles" (a nickname for them) get quite accustomed to people, lights, and even groups very easily, being almost fearless of humans.
|A Flying Squirrel reaches out for some peanut butter, not even waiting for it to be applied to the feeder.|
|A Flying Squirrel peeks out from a roosting box. Note the metal barrier along the entrance edge to help prevent gray squirrels from chewing their way in, though you can see the chew marks on the metal flashing and box itself.|
|Flying squirrels are very social during winter, vocalizing and feeding or sleeping in groups.|
Although not legal to keep as pets locally, Flying Squirrels were quite popular in the past. Captain John Smith during his explorations was acquainted to "Assapanicks" as the Native American Indians referred to them in the Virginia Algonquian dialect. King James I requested one as early as 1609, "The King is eager to have one of the Virginia Squirrels that are said to fly." Even Teddy Roosevelt had flying squirrels during his presidency. Having taken care of un-releasable rehabilitation squirrels at the nature center, I can say they are interesting indeed. However, their nocturnal nature means that they are awake and very active when you want to be asleep.
For a short video on them, check out this video from my YouTube Channel:
After seeing them perform their acrobatic glides and how readily they come to entertain at feeding stations, it easy to see the attraction. Flying squirrels have a special place in my soul. If you try to observe them at night, perhaps provide some roosting boxes, and feed them in winter, I bet you will feel the same way about them also. Luckily I get a chance to conduct a flying squirrel program each year at Long Branch Nature Center. Call them if you'd like to see if there are still any places left (703-228-6535). It's fun for the whole family (and for me). As long as it's not too windy (it's hard to glide safely in heavy winds) or extremely cold (<14 degrees F), they're fairly reliable at arriving for their dinner time. Let's hope for good "flying" weather that weekend!