Saturday, 4 September 2010

Flying Squirrels

At the recent Birdfair we became involved in a conversation concerning Flying Squirrels and the question was asked whether it might be possible to see them on an Avian Adventures tour somewhere.

As they are nocturnal and reputed to be rather shy, everyone agreed that they would be very difficult to see anywhere and certainly not a species that we would be promising to find! The Finland tour was the most popular suggestion as a possibility but someone said that they also occur in Belarus, which is a new tour destination for Avian in 2011.

The talk was exclusively about Russian (or Siberian) Flying Squirrels (Pteromys volans). However, worldwide, there are actually 44 species of Flying Squirrels and the answer to the original question was that one had already been seen on an Avian Adventures tour and quite recently. And we have the pictures to prove it!

This Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) was one of the stars of this year's Avian Adventures tour in Montana and Wyoming.

Found in coniferous and mixed forests, Northern Flying Squirrels are normally nocturnal and arboreal but this one had located an easy meal at ground level in the form of sunflower seeds at a feeder just outside Yellowstone National Park.

There are just two Flying Squirrels in the New World, the other (not surprisingly) is called Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans), although it mostly occurs in the eastern USA.

Of course Flying Squirrels can't really fly but with the aid of their patagium, a furry parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle, they do glide remarkable distances from tree to tree - "flights" by some species of as much as 90 metres have been recorded. Typical of many nocturnal creatures, they have large bulging eyes.

Pretty cute!


Steve Patterson said...

Hello from Ontario, Canada. Actually, there are 43 species worldwide, with a fair number IUCN-classed as endandgered.

The longest glide for the southern flying squirrel was recorded by a scientist in the Adirondack Mountain Range at 300m. I myself have witnessed glides by northerns of only 44m but even these glides are spectacular to watch, especially when they perform their acrobatic maneuvers.
The longest recorded glide by any flying squirrel species is that of the wooly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) of the Kashmir region, at over 500m. Note - both these glides were "incline" glides, meaning they were gliding down a mountain side. With a glide ratio of roughly 3:1, flying squirrels are limited in length of glide only by height of "takeoff object" or availability of line-of-sight glides down mountainsides.

If June and Peter ever come to Canada, with advance notice you are welcome to come and meet my two flying squirrels at home and front seats to watch our 1.5 hour show on flying squirrels and forest ecology. See for information. And visit my companion site for information on these amazing creatures of the night.



Peter and June said...

Hi Steve

Thanks for the invitation! You've obviously forgotten more about Flying Squirrels than we'll ever know - your website is a mine of information.
We're birders and we guess that anything that can glide, whether it be 300m or 500m must be an honorary bird!

June & Peter