It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane… The Amazing Flying Squirrel

Ralph LaPlant

The flying squirrel is a small, nocturnal rodent with big eyes. It is gregarious - meaning it stays with other members of its species.

There are two species of flying squirrels – the northern and southern. Central Minnesota is an area of the country where the ranges of both species overlap.

Since flying squirrels are nocturnal, they are seldom seen. I have been fortunate to not only have seen them, but also be able to walk up within a yard of them feeding at a bird feeder. 

The southern flying squirrel is the smaller of the two species. It has small ears and its belly hair is white to the base. It is about 10 inches long and weighs up to four ounces. 

The northern flying squirrel is larger and can be up to 14 inches long and weigh over six ounces. Its ears are larger and the belly hair is lead-colored at the base.

Both species favor the woods – the southern fly squirrel hardwoods and the northern a mixture of mixed hardwoods or conifers.

The flying squirrel does not fly, but glides. They can glide up to 125 feet. Pre-flight maneuvers include a swaying of the head and body from side-to-side, possibly to determine ranges. They often land with a thump.

These animals do not hibernate but remain active in winter. Calls are a sharp “tseet.” This call is louder when they are alarmed and they emit a squeal when in distress.

The flying squirrel’s diet includes nuts, tree buds, berries, insects, bird eggs, nestlings and fungi. Foraging is often done at night, on the ground. Individual ranges overlap others and there can be several squirrels per acre.

Some southern females breed at age one but other flying squirrels at age two. Woodpecker holes and natural cavities serve as nests. Breeding occurs in February and continues until summer. Gestation is about 40 days, resulting in a litter of two to six. Northern flying squirrels breed in late winter. A single litter is the norm in the north and two litters in the south. Mates sometimes associate throughout the breeding season.

The flying squirrel is often considered a nuisance. Noisy and messy in attics, it is hungry in cornfields. They spring traps, upsetting trappers who desire valuable furbearers. The flying squirrel can live up to 13 years.