Story: Yes, there are flying squirrels in New Jersey

They started coming in the summer of 2010.

The fireflies were decorating the air with fairy lights, the evening air offered a cool relief from a sweltering day. Jasper and Lilah were romping through the grass one last time before we went to bed.  I had a flashlight so I could more easily locate ink-black Lilah in the dark.

When I heard a scrabbling noise coming from our maple tree, I aimed the beam at the trunk.

Staring back at me from atop our suet feeder were a huge pair of round dark eyes set into a tiny furry creature with a tail. Our eyes met for a fraction of a second–and then it skittered away.

That was my first encounter with a family of southern flying squirrels who live in the woods behind my house, and who have been nightly visitors for most of the past four years.

Flying Squirrels Do Live in New Jersey

Yes, flying squirrels–in particular southern flying squirrels or Glaucomys volans--are indigenous to New Jersey. Nocturnal mammals, they live in deciduous and mixed forests throughout the eastern U.S., nesting in holes they find in snags, or tall dead trees. And no, they don’t actually fly; they glide, using the skin between their paws to catch the air, expertly steering around branches and leaves.

Admittedly, I do not know if I always see the same squirrels. They’re small, they move real fast, and I only see them when it’s dark out. I christened the first two I saw Boris and Natasha, finding it humorous to name them after the arch nemesises, nemesi (what’s the plural of nemesis?)…um…enemies…of the cartoon character Rocky the Flying Squirrel (more formally known as Rocket J. Squirrel, not to be confused with Rocket Raccoon, the Marvel Comics superhero now starring in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. But I digress…)

Boris and Natasha come when I call

Boris and Natasha–and their assorted grandmas and grandpas, mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and children–show up nearly every evening to snack on the suet and seeds I set out for the birds. After I learned that flying squirrels like peanut butter, I added that to their nightly buffet. At night, when I take the dogs out, I slather a generous scoop of Skippy into a feeder we nailed into the tree, and call out “Boris! Natasha!” Within seconds, a squirrel will glide silently over my head and land with an upward swoop onto the side of the tree.

Here’s the best way I can describe the experience. Imagine a tiny squirrel-like creature, stuffed inside a square furry washcloth. White on the bottom, greybrown on the top. Little claw-like feet at each corner, with a tail attached to the middle of one of the sides and a head with the cutest dark eyes you’ve ever seen on the other. Then watch it float like an expert hang glider from the top of a tree, all four paws outstretched, looking for all the world like a flying furry napkin with squirrel parts attached .

Better yet, here are some pictures of them, from this year’s visitors.

Flying squirrel on suet feeder

I first discovered that the flying squirrels were regular visitors when I found them eating our suet.

A flying squirrel eats peanut butter from a feeder.

The flying squirrels love peanut butter, but they also eat seeds and berries that I leave out for them.

Flying squirrel eats seeds from a bird feeder.

This photo is from last year. There were a couple of squirrels that loved this feeder–a favorite of mine, upcycled from traffic light lenses.

Young flying squirrel eats sunflower seeds from a squirrel-proof (as in gray squirrel) feeder.

This youngster decided he (or she) liked the sunflower seeds from the “squirrel proof” feeder. He didn’t weigh enough to close the seed ports. (Another photo from last year.)

It's easy to see the skin stretched between the paws of this flying squirrel.

It’s easy to see the skin stretched between the paws of this flying squirrel. I put peanut butter in several places so more than one squirrel can feed at a time.

Flying squirrel on a tree.

You can see the body of the squirrel in this photo, with the skin between it’s paws. Technically, it’s a membrane called a patagium.

Young flying squirrel sits on top of a feeder.

Sometimes the squirrels sit on top of the feeder, but most of the time they’re busy eating.

Three flying squirrels eating from the feeder.

Quite often, it’s a full house. Anyone else will have to wait at the bar. ;-)

Flying squirrels going up and down a tree trunk.

What goes up, must come down. I think this might have been the same squirrel–or at least the same age. The young ones’ tails tend to be a little thinner.

Three flying squirrels on a tree

This year we’ve had the most flying squirrels I’ve ever seen–so many that it’s easy to get pictures of more than one scrambling up or down the tree trunk. There are three in this photo.

Seven flying squirrels on a tree, eating from two feeders.

You can count seven in this picture.

Twelve flying squirrels on one tree.

One night there were so many I had to use my wide angle lens to try and get them all in one shot. How many are in this picture? An even dozen.

12 flying squirrels in one photo; I've circled each of them to make it easier to see.

I’ve put a circle around each of them to make it easier to see.

Flying squirrel in the air, about to land on a tree trunk.

Pure serendipity. Dumb luck. I had the camera focused at right place at the right time just as this guy was landing. I don’t think I’ll ever get another photo of a squirrel in flight without sophisticated equipment.

 

Flying squirrel on tree trunk.

One of the reasons I love where I live is the fact that I get to see creatures like these, and watch fox kits play and hoot back and forth with a great horned owl, or talk to a wild turkey.

And where were my dogs while I was taking all these pictures? Usually I let the pups play outside in the dark while I fill the feeders, putting seed out for the early-rising birds as well. When I want to take pictures, which I do just a few times a season, I usher Jasper, Lilah and Tucker in the house, so the squirrels don’t feel as threatened.

I don’t think the dogs appreciate that, though.

Dog watches from a window at night.

Seriously, Mom? You’d rather spend time taking pictures of flying washcloths then hang out with me?

 

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33 Comments on "Story: Yes, there are flying squirrels in New Jersey"

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  1. meowmeowmans says:

    Wow! Flying squirrels in New Jersey? We never knew!

  2. Wow! I never knew we had those things in the states! So very cool! And what a great action shot! Loved this collection of pics!

    • Thanks. I would never have thought they were in New Jersey. I would have thought they belong in a rainforest. But apparently, they’re in the forests all over the northeast US and into Canada.

  3. Wow, we had no idea they lived in that part of the country. And you have so many of them, too! We love the description of them as squirrels stuffed in washcloths. That really *is* what they look like!

  4. Flea says:

    OMD! THOSE ARE THE CUTEST THINGS EVER IN THE HISTORY OF CUTEST THINGS. Want.

  5. Sue says:

    Fantastic photos! You have so many of them! My dogs would go crazy :-)

    • The first few years, my dogs went bonkers. After that, they didn’t pay too much attention. The squirrels don’t even think about running about on the ground when the dogs are outside. And they don’t taunt like your average daytime squirrels.

  6. Hi Y’all!

    Love, love flyin’ squirrels. Never saw a photo of one in flight! Amazing! Sort of look like a brown bat! BOL!

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    PS You’re gettin’ my vote…hope y’all win! (Petties)

  7. Awe so adorable, although I wouldnt want one flying out at me!

  8. I don’t think I would like flying squirrels! I hate the regular ones enough and I can’t catch them because they just run up trees, if they could fly, well, that’s just not fair. Love Dolly

    • Never thought of it that way, Dolly. That would certainly not seem fair to a dog.

      But they’re tiny and they don’t tease like your average, everyday, daytime squirrel. They just go about their business at night, probably when you’re asleep. ;-)

  9. My Ma is from New Jersey and she had NO idea there were flying squirrels there! Maybe they arrived after she left? BOL Happy Monday.
    Oz

  10. Wow, we didn’t know there were flying squirrels in New Jersey, thanks for telling us about them!

  11. Rama's Mama says:

    Wow, there are so many of them! They are cute little things. I really like the upcycled feeder made from the traffic light lens!

  12. Emma says:

    Tree rats are tree rats. I would love to try and catch one of these flying washcloth tree rats!

  13. Terry Cramer says:

    Wowie! Amazing. I love that you compare them to washcloths! I think that I would like to bark at them very loudly,

    Livvie, Rat Terrier,
    from MatildasJourney.com

  14. Wow, we don’t have flying squirrels around here…or if we do, we’ve never seen them. We only got the regular ones. ;)

  15. I am so terrified of squirrels – it would make you laugh. But I loved your story and the photos were incredible. My family would never believe I actually read this. Thanks for a great post.

  16. slimdoggy says:

    Wow – so cool and what great photos. The one shot of that guy landing…excellent. Poor Tucker just wanted to help.

  17. OMG…. I’m not sure what to say… They are kinda cute… and kinda horrifying. Love your description! (They’re “a tiny squirrel-like creature, stuffed inside a square furry washcloth.”) Too perfect. But I’ve heard folks say squirrels are just rats w/ bushy tails, so I have to admit, these make me think of bats with bushy tails!

  18. We have had several flying squirrels and I think they are sooo cool! Unfortunately, we also have owls that seem to love them also. I have never seen that many and have never been able to capture them on film. Those are amazing!

  19. WOW!!! How cool is that?!? And how awesome that you have been able to capture such great photos – especially of that one gliding in the air. They are so cute!!! I am super jealous.
    I get excited when I see the chipmunks and rats (yes, we have a couple of rats – not gross rats though. They look like pet rats) in the back yard. My husband and I put out food for them all the time. But flying squirrels definitely trumps all of that!!!

  20. Dawn says:

    Oh my goodness! I can’t believe all those squirrels on that tree!!! We have a lot of squirrels here, but not flying ones. They seem to be everywhere and like to make a lot of ruckus in the treats. But I don’t think we have as many as you pictured on that tree.

  21. Clooney says:

    Wow, this is such a cool and fascinating post! Loved seeing the fabulous pictures you took of them, they are adorable and really enjoyed your story of them.

  22. Patricia Dumas says:

    Wow! I never knew there were flying squirrels here either. I’ve lived at the Jersey Shore my entire life, and unfortunately, the cat brought a dead one in the house last night. My husband said it was a baby squirrel, but immediately I knew it couldn’t be.

    Amazing. I now have to look closer every night to the feeders, and hope I can see them ALIVE!

    Thanks for the great story.
    Pat in Fair Haven, NJ

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