Squirrels are a common sight in our Sierra Cascade region. I thought I had seen them all, but it seems the little Northern Flying Squirrel has eluded me for decades.
Northern Flying Squirrels are nocturnal, quietly gliding from tree to tree under the starry skies, while we are tucked in bed. They don’t actually fly but ride the breeze like a hang glider with the aid of a fur lined membrane that extends the length of their body, from wrists to ankles.
Big dark eyes, long whiskers and a fuzzy cinnamon coat make this elusive forest dweller the most adorable in the neighborhood. This species is dependent upon old growth, closed canopy coniferous forest. Northern Flying Squirrels live in cozy nests lined with plants called lichens inside cubby holes in larger living or dead trees(snags), usually in close proximity to a creek or stream. Occasionally they inhabit woodpecker holes and remodeled, abandoned bird nests and will also build outside leaf nests called dreys. Slumber parties are the norm with nests occupied by several snoozing squirrels.
Sniffing out truffles (a strong-smelling underground fungus that resembles an irregular, rough-skinned potato) brings our tree dwelling friends to the ground to scamper around each night. They are more vulnerable to predators on the ground, but who can resist the scrumptious truffle which is also considered a culinary delicacy in countries such as France. Fruits, nuts, eggs, hatchlings and insects round out a balanced diet for these crafty tree hoppers.
Breeding takes place in March and babies are born around 40 days later. Mothers build a private nest and care for their one to six babies alone until they are weened in about 80 days. Males and females are ready for families of their own at one year.
Northern Flying Squirrels are found in all national forests of the Sierra Nevada’s. So, next time you are out there camping under giant trees, spend some time in the late evening, laid back by the fire, gazing into the treetops. Maybe you will be lucky and catch a glimpse of this stealthy, silent glider.
Sources: nrm.dfg.ca.gov and wikipedia.com