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The northern flying squirrel is the most secretive of our squirrels – since its nocturnal, most people never get to see one. It is worth making the effort to get to know these charming mammals. The best way to get a look at them is by having bird feeders. If you have a sunflower seed feeder that is near your window, perhaps at night you can hear the feeder knocking against the pane when it isn’t windy outside. Without turning on the lights in the house, walk over to the window, and chances are there will be a flying squirrel. When it glides over to the feeder, it bangs against the glass. You can shine a light out and get a great look at one of our lesser-known treasures. Flying squirrels are about the same size as red squirrels, with large, reflective black eyes for better night vision. The colouring is duller than a red squirrel and you will be able to see the extra flap of skin on each side. Although they don’t fly, these squirrels use these elastic membranes to glide from a higher level to a lower one.
Flying squirrels live among coniferous trees, making their homes from 1 to 10 m (3.3-33′) above the ground. They are opportunistic, often taking over abandoned woodpecker cavities as well as old red squirrel or blue jay nests. The interior nests are preferred for winter living and bearing young, while the exterior nests are favoured in the summer. Like the red squirrel, flying squirrels do not hibernate and are active all year long.
During summer, food is abundant and their varied diet includes such things as insects, carrion and the occasional bird egg. In the fall, however, they concentrate on storing winter supplies of coniferous seeds and mushrooms. In spring, they feast on the buds of aspen, alder and pussy willow.
Large coniferous trees, even those old ones in a hedgerow, are great places for flying squirrels, providing both food and places to overwinter. Making sure that there are spring plants for buds will help ease the transition from winter to summer. As they do with with much of our smaller wildlife, cats extract a large toll on the flying squirrel population. It is not uncommon to see a tail near your house if you have cats that go outside.