It took a niece from Manhattan to notice a very rare visitor to our feeding roof (over the carport) one night recently. She was sitting on the steps next to the glass door when she noticed movement. She assumed it was a squirrel, not knowing our red and gray squirrels are diurnal.
Another soon joined it and they had their backs to us as they gobbled up the remains of the seeds, completely ignoring the excitement inside. Their fluffy tails hung down over the edge of the roof. This was the first time we have had (or noticed) these charming, flying ghosts (charming unless they are living in your attic!).
As flying squirrels are nocturnal, I have seen them only rarely up till now. Once I leaned on a dead snag back in the High Peaks and a whole group exploded out of a cavity. Whoa, what a delightful surprise. For years afterwards I knocked on every snag I walked by but had no luck. Then walking down River Road one time I pushed on a rotten poplar snag and there was another explosion.
Flying squirrels are tame/bold maybe because through the eons they have not had to tangle with humans very often. (Tundra birds act the same way.) If they can get to your suet, they don’t mind your watching them in the light from the house from inches away. And they are beautiful, with white fur underneath and big, round black eyes. People who have raised them say they make friendly, even affectionate, pets though you have to be nocturnal too to know that.
Ours are probably Northern Flying Squirrels, which weigh up to 4.4 ounces (red squirrels are 8 ounces). Southern Flying Squirrels live up to the 1,000 foot elevation, are smaller, much more carnivorous, and store nuts. Northerns live on lichens, mushrooms, seeds and buds. In the winter Northerns often nest communally during the day, up to 19 of them in a tree cavity according to Andy Saunders who wrote our mammal bible, Adirondack Mammals.
Of course they don’t really fly—they glide. They have loose skin that is connected between wrist and ankle, with a cartilage extension beyond the wrist for extra sail, and their tails are flattened side to side with the hairs growing out parallel to each other, looking and acting rather like a feather. They jump out from high up on a tree making a square shape, and can steer using the tail as a rudder, landing upright low on a tree, which they climb up for another flight. They have been known to glide for 300 feet, even managing to get some lift, by adjusting their legs and tail angles.
They do run along the ground too. Tracks in fluffy snow are always hard to distinguish, but if there is a sitzmark out in the middle of an open area, or fresh tracks very early in the morning that are a little different from red squirrel, you may have the flyers in your territory. Put out some pecans, their favorite food, after dark and you might have some very special visitors.