The life and times of a flying squirrel

Home sweet home

A southern flying squirrel peeks out of a bird house in Virginia.
A southern flying squirrel peeks out of a bird house in Virginia.
Courtesy mogrify

Flying squirrels prefer mature forests with large trees and many fallen, decaying logs. They nest in cavities such as woodpecker holes, filling them with leaves or other plant material. They may also use bird houses, cabins or attics as nest sites.

Sometimes the squirrels build non-cavity nests, weaving leaves, twigs, grasses and mosses around a tree limb, 15 to 20 feet off the ground. If left undisturbed, they will stay in their nest all day, coming out only at night to forage for food.

Mothers give birth to a litter of blind, hairless pups—typically two to four, but perhaps as many as seven. Southern flying squirrels frequently raise two litters each summer, while northern squirrels raise only one. Some sources suggest the female southern flying squirrel is more aggressive than the northern and will defend her nest site.

Flying squirrels do not hibernate in winter, but they may reduce their activity during extremely cold weather. Often a dozen or more squirrels will den together in a group to conserve heat.

A southern flying squirrel raids a bird feeder
A southern flying squirrel raids a bird feeder
Courtesy laszlo-photo

Dinner time!

Flying squirrels eat a wide variety of food—seeds, nuts, grains, flowers, fruits, berries, mushrooms, moss and lichens. They often raid bird feeders overnight. They will also eat whatever meat they can get, including insects, mice, birds and eggs. Fur trappers often catch flying squirrels in meat-baited traps, but let them go as there is no market for squirrel fur.

Flying squirrels store food in tree hole caches, and can stash away several hundred seeds in a single night. They also store food to eat over winter. However, as their supplies run low in late winter and early spring, the squirrels will feed on the buds of trees.

As they eat, so are they eaten—many predators would make a meal of a flying squirrel. Owls and cats are their greatest enemies. Cats typically devour the entire squirrel except for the tail, which they often leave on porches, park benches and around farm buildings. Other predators include foxes, weasels, martens and fishers.