Awe-inspiring Northern flying squirrels

Northern flying squirrels are among our most interesting wild neighbours.

Although they are quite common in Central Alberta, their nocturnal lifestyle means that they are seldom encountered by humans. Some bird feeding enthusiasts report seeing them dining at their bird feeders after dark (they love sunflower seeds) and there are reports of them taking up residence in bluebird or duck nest boxes. One fellow bluebird trail operator reported getting a very vicious bite last summer when he put his hand into one of his bluebird boxes to check the box contents.

The box contained a flying squirrel family and Ma was determined to protect her babies. A fellow naturalist has also documented the fascinating noctual activities of flying squirrels with the use of a thermal imager. The squirrels, which show up as red dots on the imager screen, can be seen leaping great distances between tree branches.

Despite their name, flying squirrels can’t actually fly. Rather, their patagia (unique membranes that stretch between their front and back legs) enable them to glide with ease. Apparently, they have been recorded gliding up to 100 m. They bob their head up and down and from side-to-side before launching themselves and, once airborne, steer with their forelegs and use their flattened tail as a rudder.

The flying squirrels’ large ears and huge, black and glossy eyes enable them to navigate easily in their night world. They are omnivorous, dining on nuts, seeds, berries, insects and tree buds as well eggs and nestlings.

Gregarious by nature, they will often roost with other individuals in a roosting cavity.

Several years ago, I found the tail of a flying squirrel in my yard, the only piece left of an individual that had likely been killed by a neighbourhood cat. I remember stroking the flattened tail, amazed at how incredibly soft and delicate it was.

More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to encounter flying squirrels in natural cavities and nest boxes. It is incredible to be able to gaze into those massive black eyes!

Don Auten of Ponoka recently captured an amazing image of a gliding flying squirrel. This rare image catches the squirrel with its patagia outstretched, just before it lands on a tree trunk. Some interesting video clips and additional images of flying squirrels, including others by Mr. Auten, can be found on my blog (http://www.myrnapearman.com/blog).

Myrna Pearman is the Biologist at Ellis Bird Farm. She can be reached at mpearman@ellisbirdfarm.ca.

Just Posted

Man badly injured in off-road vehicle collision on Saturday

Incident happened in Mountain View County about 10:50 p.m.

Trump-Putin summit opens without talk of election meddling

HELSINKI — With a wink and a slouch, respectively, President Donald Trump… Continue reading

Ultra-light helicopter pilot killed in crash near High River

Police say the pilot of an ultra-light helicopter is dead after crashing… Continue reading

Heat warning in effect for Central Alberta

Environment Canada has issued a heat warning for Central Alberta. Residents in… Continue reading

Westerner Days parade set for Wednesday in downtown Red Deer

Over 30,000 people are expected to line up the streets of downtown… Continue reading

CFIA inspects after video shows pigs crammed into B.C. transport truck

The video shows pigs piled on top of one another in a transport truck on a “sweltering” hot day last week

Croatia gears up to give heroes’ welcome to World Cup team

ZAGREB, Croatia — Fans are pouring in from throughout the country as… Continue reading

Statelessness a hurdle for some rescued Thai boy

MAE SAI, Thailand — The 12 boys and coach of the Wild… Continue reading

Lobbying commissioner rejects complaints against firearms panel member

OTTAWA — A federal watchdog has dismissed complaints that a mass-shooting survivor… Continue reading

CREA reports June home sales down 10.7% from year ago, but up from May

OTTAWA — The Canadian Real Estate Association says the number of homes… Continue reading

Red Deer Royals place second at Calgary Stampede parade

Royals depicted life in forest and portrayed destruction by human beings

Muslim candidates running in record numbers face backlash

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A liberal woman of colour with zero name recognition… Continue reading

Former UK Cabinet secretary seeks new Brexit referendum

LONDON — A former U.K. Cabinet minister from the ruling Conservative Party… Continue reading

Man killed by Chicago police ran away, reached for waist

CHICAGO — A man killed by Chicago police had a gun in… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month