Montana Outdoors

April 26, 2012

Squirrel? Squirrel!

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , — montucky @ 8:50 pm

Just two days ago tree swallows started showing up for the first time this year and their acrobatic flights are so enjoyable to watch; one of the wonderful treats of summer.

For the past two summers a pair of them have nested in an old bluebird house that is fastened to a small pine tree not far from our house. Having just seen the swallows come in I went out today to clean out that old house for this summer’s tenants and found a big surprise awaiting.

As I removed a panel on the house so the accumulation of twigs and other nesting material that had nearly filled it could be removed, I saw a small head with huge eyes appear at the entrance and soon after a small and very surprised animal (about a foot long) emerged and scampered a few feet up the tree. A squirrel! No, something else: our squirrels don’t look at all like that.. something else. What in the world? My mind quickly reviewed all of the small mammals I know of in Montana. “Squirrel” was as close as I could come.

I noticed that the contents of the house included two babies and so I carefully tucked them and everything else back into the house. The animal by this time had retreated further up the tree.

A quick search on the internet using “Flying squirrel, Montana” (I recalled seeing something similar from South America on a National Geographic film) immediately produced a link to a website called “Montana Field Guide” and a photo of my strange animal, labeled “Northern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus“. I had no idea there was such a thing in these parts! A call to our local wildlife biologist with the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks confirmed it, and I was told that not only are they not rare, but they are quite common and plentiful, however seldom seen because they are nocturnal.

After watching for awhile from a respectful distance, I saw the mother come back down the tree and re-enter the house, unfortunately in poor light conditions and right at the useful limit of my 300mm lens.Β 

Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrels occur from Alaska through most of Canada, southward to the mountains of southern California, southern Rocky Mountains, western South Dakota, Great Lakes Region, and southern Appalachians.

Their diet consists largely of fungi and lichens plus plant and animal material (insects, nuts, buds, seeds, fruit).

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77 Comments »

  1. Amazing! Beats the pants off the pesky housecat-taunting, birdseed-stealing non-native squirrels in our neighborhood πŸ™‚

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    Comment by aarontheisen — April 26, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

    • Although we were just introduced today, I already suspect that this little guy has been feeding on the sunflower seeds we keep out for the birds and chipmunks. I shall have to keep plenty on hand! The only squirrels I knew about here until today were the little pine squirrels and there haven’t been any of them around the house for some time.

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      Comment by montucky — April 26, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

      • Ah, we have city squirrels. They are a maddening bunch, but they are pretty cute, even as they taunt our housecat through the window.

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        Comment by aarontheisen — April 27, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  2. What a sweetheart! And babies, too. The photos are wonderful, and you’re wonderfully lucky. I noticed the scientific name, and went looking – sure enough, my early glaucoma and Glaucomys sabrinus are related. Some people have said I’m a little squirrely – maybe this proves it!

    Like

    Comment by shoreacres — April 26, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

    • She is a pretty little thing, isn’t she! I feel very fortunate to have this family living so close by. It opens up anew avenue of thought in the evenings.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 26, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

  3. I’ve seen flying squirrels on my parent’s farm in Indiana (they don’t have that farm any more). I guess it’s been 20 years since I’ve seen one.

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    Comment by jomegat — April 26, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

    • This is the first I’ve even seen. I had no idea that they existed here and it’s very surprising to me. I had thought that the only animal in western Montana that I had not seen was the wolverine.

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      Comment by montucky — April 26, 2012 @ 10:44 pm

  4. Wow. How cool. Great photos. I have squirrels in my wood duck boxes every now and then. Some even have their babies in them. I just leave them be. There’s plenty of other boxes for the ducks to use. I like to think of it as equal opportunity housing.

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    Comment by anniespickns — April 26, 2012 @ 9:21 pm

    • I like the idea of equal opportunity housing! I shall have to explain that to the swallows in a few days. Oddly enough, yesterday I put out a new bluebird house especially for the swallows. Perhaps that will make up for their losing this on to the squirrel. Now I will have to make more houses and put them up especially for the squirrels, probably in higher places and with slightly different construction.

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      Comment by montucky — April 26, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

      • An old timer I know who has blue bird boxes says to keep out the swallows you put the blue bird boxes either back to back or very close together. The swallows will occupy one but will not bother blue birds that want to nest in the second box. They will only fend off other swallows. You might give it a try and see how it works for you.

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        Comment by anniespickns — April 30, 2012 @ 7:01 am

        • We do not get bluebirds near our house. They prefer the open fields a mile or so away and only visit the house briefly. We like the swallows too, and they seem to like the same houses. I take care of a dozen or so bluebird houses along some hayfields a few miles up the road, and this year they have a few Western Bluebirds and the rest Mountains Bluebirds. Both are beautiful and usually have large families each year there.

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          Comment by montucky — April 30, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

          • Do your bluebirds raise a second brood, Montucky?

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            Comment by Kim — May 1, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  5. Wow! That’s so cool.

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    Comment by Patia — April 26, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  6. Awesome photo from Flying squirrel! That’s great. In Finland we have, but to see it here, hmm, nearly impossible. I am very glad that You presented these photos.

    To our backyard rabbits have returned. It is nice to see them, when they come for morning breakfast.

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    Comment by Sartenada — April 26, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

    • Yes, they must be very illusive, but of course that is their survival strategy! We still have several cotton tail rabbits around too. I love to see them!

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

      • “We still have several cotton tail rabbits around too.”
        Did you mean snowshoe hares, Montucky? The ones that turn white in winter?

        “I’m guessing that this one has been feeding some on the sunflower seeds we have out for the birds.”
        Their main food is lichens and fungus, as I recall from doing a report on them for the Montana Natural History Center.

        “Next will be trying to catch her coming or going without disturbing her…”
        They are so predictable: if you are in position 15 minutes before dusk with a tripod, you should be able to capture her as she leaves, but you will need a flash or a pretty fancy lens in the gloaming. And you will only get one shot if you use the flash.

        “I am still very surprised that I didn’t know that flying squirrels were native to this area. I had always connected them to the jungles of South America.”

        Are you thinking of Sugar Gliders, sold in pet stores? I think they are cousins.

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        Comment by Kim — April 28, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

        • Nope, cotton tails. The nearest snowshoes are about 5 miles away.

          Somehow the only flying squirrels that I knew about I saw on a National Geographic film; I think it was filmed in South America. Now I’ve learned something!

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          Comment by montucky — April 28, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

  7. You have to enjoy those huge eyes. We have an electric spool to wrap our garden hose on. Most years Wrens make a nest in the center hole. One year to our surprise the flying squirrles nested there.

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    Comment by Grampy — April 27, 2012 @ 1:36 am

    • That’s interesting! Now that I’m aware of them I will be more conscious of where they might take up residence. I will also make som houses that they might like and place them in some of the more out-of-the-way places around.

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

  8. Wow, what a discovery! She is gorgeous! I bet the babies are, too.

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    Comment by Jo Woolf — April 27, 2012 @ 2:04 am

    • Oh yes, I bet the babies will be really cute. It might be a real challenge to get to see them though. I suspect that there might be a very small window of opportunity at dawn and another at dusk in which one might see them leave or enter the nest.

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

  9. I have not seen a flying squirrel in decades. There was one (probably a family) that lived in a large elm across the street from my grandmother (pre-Dutch elm disease in Oklahoma). I assume that it was one of the sub-species of Southern Flying Squirrel. After reading this post, I found this very informative site that may be of interest to you and others: http://www.flyingsquirrels.com/lifecycle.html

    Like

    Comment by Dave at collinda — April 27, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    • Thanks for that link, Dave! It’s a great site! I will use their design for nesting boxes and make a few to spread around!

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

      • Great! A tribute to the famous Rocky and his boon buddy Bullwinkle πŸ˜‰

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        Comment by Dave at collinda — April 28, 2012 @ 7:06 am

  10. What a special opportunity. Neat!

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    Comment by Homestead Ramblings — April 27, 2012 @ 7:02 am

    • It was indeed! It adds a new dimension to looking for wildlife here!

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

  11. WOW what a neato surprise and a treat!! Great photos too!!!

    Like

    Comment by dhphotosite — April 27, 2012 @ 7:25 am

    • Yes, I thought it great surprise, and it paid to keep watching until the mother returned to her nest. It would be very difficult to photograph them in normal conditions.

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

  12. How exciting, Montucky! I had that very same thing happen to me a few years back, and would rather have flying squirrels use my nest boxes than birds!
    It’s great that they are not rare, yet they go about their business undiscovered because of their crepuscular nature. I can’t believe you got such good pictures in what must have been low light. (Or was that just after you dislodged her during daylight hours?)

    Now that you know where she lives, you can count on seeing her every night if you look just before it gets too dark to see.

    Like

    Comment by Kim — April 27, 2012 @ 8:11 am

    • Now that I know about them I will make a few boxes just for them. I’m guessing that this one has been feeding some on the sunflower seeds we have out for the birds too.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

  13. What a surprise that must have been! Great photo opp. It makes me wonder if any of my birdhouses are occupied by something other than birds.

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    Comment by Teresa Evangeline — April 27, 2012 @ 9:36 am

    • I wouldn’t be surprised to find them in any boxes that are in the trees. I’ve cleaned our bluebird houses for several years without finding anything else, but those are always fairly low and in open fields; probably not attractive places for squirrels.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

  14. Absolutely wonderful. Rare photos of the northern flying squirrel, how fortunate. We have both northern and southern flying squirrels in these parts. They are very nocturnal so seldom seen but probably as common as other squirrel species. We had them living in our attic for a while but kicked them out after the young became adults. They sure make a mess!

    Like

    Comment by Wild_Bill — April 27, 2012 @ 9:37 am

    • I was glad to see this one and very pleased to know about them now. About 20 years ago I had an all-winter contest with a little red squirrel concerning the rights to our pump house. I, of course, was interested in keeping it secure for temperature reasons and the squirrel kept chewing an entrance into it. It lasted until summer.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  15. That’s interesting-I didn’t know we had flying squirrels in North America. It’s a strange looking squirrel with those huge eyes.

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    Comment by New Hampshire Garden Solutions — April 27, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    • I didn’t know either, and at first it was those huge eyes that made realize that it wasn’t an ordinary kind of squirrel. The tail also is very different.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

  16. How cool is that?! What a find! Good for you, Montucky. πŸ™‚

    Like

    Comment by seekraz — April 27, 2012 @ 11:44 am

    • Yes, quite a find! Good to know that they are so plentiful, too!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

      • Kind of amazing…and given that they are usually out at night, makes sense that you wouldn’t have seen them before…. Did you notice their large and protruding eyes for their night life? Kind of cool, huh? πŸ™‚

        Like

        Comment by seekraz — April 27, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

        • Yes, the large eyes were the first thing that I noticed and actually that was what made me think at first that it wasn’t a squirrel. Very cool animal!

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          Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

  17. You did great at capturing the little gal!

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    Comment by Roberta — April 27, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    • There was barely enough light, but it worked. Next will be trying to catch her coming or going without disturbing her.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  18. I have never seen one, but have heard we have them here. You cat some really good shots of yours! I didn’t realize they were so large.

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    Comment by sandy — April 27, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

    • They are pretty good size. Seem to be longer that regular squirrels too.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  19. Wonderful photos! I’ve never seen flying squirrels before. They sure look cute.

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    Comment by alskamom — April 27, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

    • She is a very pretty little creature! Her fur is uniform and perfectly groomed. Has a very pleasant look to her!

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      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

  20. How exciting to discover a new animal right in your yard and right up close and personal. She’s really different looking than a regular squirrel. You can see those thingamajigs on her side that allow her to “fly” really well in your shots. I just looked them up on Wikipedia, “A furry membrane called a patagium extends between the front and rear leg and allows the animal to glide through the air.” How cool and now you’ll be able to watch the babies grow up. We want updates!

    Like

    Comment by Candace — April 27, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

    • Yes, I will try to get more photos as the little ones grow up. I doubt that it will be easy though with a nocturnal species.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

  21. how amazing!! so cute and great photos! thanks for sharing your surprise!

    at the park the other day we saw a squirrel coming over a fence carrying a large tuft of what looked like cotton. I’d never seen one carrying something like that and we think it went up to a large “nest” in the tree. I thought they made nests on the inside of the tree but this one was a large nest in the branches. It was fun for us to watch that one too.

    Like

    Comment by skouba — April 27, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

    • I read that these will make nests in the trees too. Probably have seen many of them without knowing what they were.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

  22. I’ve only seen one flying squirrel in my life and sadly, it was brought in to my house, dead by my cat. They are usually nocturnal, so from what I understand, not seen that often. How exciting that you hae a little nest of babies and were able to get a photo of the parent!

    Like

    Comment by kateri — April 27, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

    • Yes, I would think that if they were seen very often that I would have heard about them long before this. Now however, I will be on the lookout for them at the dawn and dusk times when I’m in the woods. I’m used to the other squirrels and don’t really have to look for them because they always announce their presence.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

  23. Hi Montucky, When I saw the pictures, I immediately knew that it was a Flying Squirrel. We have them around at our lake house across town. They are nocturnal usually. Interesting animals and great leapers. Have a great Saturday tomorrow!

    Like

    Comment by wildlifewatcher — April 27, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

    • I am still very surprised that I didn’t know that flying squirrels were native to this area. I had always connected them to the jungles of South America. Their nocturnal strategy works very well! Have a great weekend!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 27, 2012 @ 11:43 pm

  24. Great find. Those big eyes look perfectly adapted to a nocturnal existence.

    Like

    Comment by Finn Holding — April 28, 2012 @ 3:18 am

    • They must be very well adapted, living so close and yet not being seen. I hope to catch sight of her as she comes and goes and especially when the babies are able to get out!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 28, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

  25. There are lots of squirrels here on Long Island, New York.

    Like

    Comment by mike — April 28, 2012 @ 8:10 am

    • Besides several species of ground squirrels, we have the red squirrels here. They are small and dark colored and live mostly on pine nuts. THe flying squirrel is new to me.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 28, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  26. Oh my goodness! At first I thought it was a furry bat. A flying squirrel of all things. I haven’t seen a squirrel like that. What great pictures! Enjoyed! πŸ™‚

    Like

    Comment by Anna Surface — April 28, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

    • I was totally surprised when I saw her, not knowing that there were flying squirrels anywhere around. Now there is something brand new to watch for!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 28, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

  27. What great photos. These are wonderful, Montucky, just wonderful!

    Like

    Comment by Bo Mackison — April 28, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

    • It turned out to be a very lucky encounter, Bo. It cost her a little sleeping ime, but I there was enough light for a few photos. I will pay her back for the lost sleep by making sure that her little home is safe and protected.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 28, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

  28. Great captures! Kinda cute looking little critter πŸ™‚

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    Comment by TheDailyClick — April 29, 2012 @ 3:54 am

    • Very pretty animal. Exceptionally nice fur and very sleek looking.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 29, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

  29. It’s so cute!!! What a find. Glad mamma went back for her babies. I’m surprised you didn’t photograph them!

    Like

    Comment by Juls — April 29, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

    • When I saw the babies I didn’t have the camera around and I didn’t want to expose the little guys too long. I’m hoping that I can see her with them in a few weeks, but it might not be that easy.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 29, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

  30. Amazing! Great shots of this special mama scurrying back to check on her little ones. πŸ™‚

    Like

    Comment by Mama's Empty Nest — May 1, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    • I was very lucky to get the chance for a few photos in daylight! I have neither the skills nor the equipment to photograph her in the dark!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  31. Wow, it’s eyes are huge! What a cute creature, too. πŸ™‚

    By the way, the last few days our garden has been absolutely full of Swifts, flying around presumably eating flies. I hope some of the ones they’re dining on are the ones who’ve been biting me lately!

    Like

    Comment by Val — May 1, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    • It is getting to the time of year for the birds, isn’t it! Most of the species that summer here have now arrived. It’s a wonderful time of year!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

  32. I learned something today, I was unaware we had some flying squirrels in Canada ! Great photos !

    Like

    Comment by Inspired and pretty — May 9, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

    • Until I saw this one I was completely unaware of them too. I’ll bet there are lots of folks who don’t know that they have them as neighbors!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — May 9, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

  33. Great photo! May I use it (with credit) in a book I’m currently writing on gardening with native plants in the Pacific Northwest? (We have these sweet creatures here, too). Please contact me before the end of Sept, if possible. Thank you! eileen[at]sngdesign[dot]net

    Like

    Comment by Eileen — September 15, 2013 @ 3:19 pm


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