Flying Squirrels

Around 15 years ago we put up a wooden bird feeder that had a glass front on a large tree close to our deck.  The gray squirrels didn't think the bird seed came out of the feeder fast enough, so they chewed away the wood on both sides of the glass front, and the glass fell out.  With the front of the feeder gone we could only put small amount of bird seed on the tray.

Late one fall evening I took out the garbage without turning on the outside light and I heard something jump out of the feeder and run up the tree.  I didn't think the gray squirrels came out at night so I wondered what was visiting our feeder in the dark.  I got a flashlight and waited quietly on the deck and discovered that the visitor was a flying squirrel, a Southern Flying Squirrel. Actually there were a bunch of flying squirrels that would visit our feeder after dark. Here is a picture of a flying squirrel in the chewed up feeder. 

Picture 1. Close-up, you can see that the squirrel is picking out the sunflower seeds.
I started showing the picture around to friends, asking "would like to see my picture of a flying squirrel"?  And after they looked at the picture they would usually turn to me and say "that squirrel's not flying".  I decided I had to get a picture of it "flying".  I spent a long time researching how the squirrels got to the feeder. I found that one would glide across Tokay and land it a tree by the side of the blvd. From there it would run higher up the tree and jump and start to glide toward our house. After gliding past a tree branch, it would turn and glide toward the tree with the feeder, landing around 10 feet above the feeder.  Since it came close to the deck I was able to set up a tripod on top of our picnic table, on top of the deck and snap a picture as it glided by.

 Picture 2.  A flying squirrel gilding

Around Thanksgiving time, a couple of years ago, my daughters complained that there was something making noise in the attic at night.  I went to put some mouse traps in the attic and while I was setting one of the traps, I saw a something dart between some boxes. It was larger than a mouse, and I suspected it was one of the flying squirrels.  I removed the mouse traps because I didn't want catch a squirrel in one. The next day I bought a small "catch alive" trap and baited it with a small amount of peanut butter.  An hour or two latter I checked the trap and I had caught a flying squirrel, but I was in for a surprise because not only was there a squirrel in the trap, there were another couple of squirrels around the trap looking in, probably wishing they were in there with the peanut butter too. 


 Picture 3.  A flying squirrel trapped.

I realized that a family of flying squirrels had moved in to spend the winter in our attic.  I decided I could not just catch them and take them outside and let them go, because they would just go back into the attic.  I also wondered that if I caught them, would I be separating mothers from babies that might be too young to go in the trap.  Time for some flying squirrel research on the internet.   What we had were Southern Flying Squirrels, they are small, nocturnal, nest in holes in trees (and attics obviously), and eat nuts and berries.  They have their litters in January/February or June/July and the baby squirrels are weaned by six weeks of age (so I didn't have to worry about baby squirrels). And during the winter months, they will den together in a group, with groups as large as 50 reported!   I had to find out how they were getting in and block it.  We had a rabbit cage that didn't have an occupant at that time so we started catching the flying squirrels and putting them in the rabbit cage while I searched for their entrance.

One morning while we were catching squirrels, my daughters discovered a flying squirrel in the kitchen.  They tried to catch it, but the flying squirrels move very fast.  It kept climbing up to high places, jumping off, and trying to glide through the kitchen window. My daughters finally quit trying to catch it and opened the door to the outside and chased it out. I thought it might be a chance for me to figure out how it was getting into the house so I ran outside to watch were it went.  I thought that since they were nocturnal that it would not like being out in the morning light and it would head for its attic entrance, but I was wrong. It went right to the bird feeder and had a leisurely meal of bird seeds.   After watching and waiting for a while, I went back inside for a coat and a camera and I went back out and watched it eat. It would even take breaks and climb down the tree to eat some of the snow at the base of the tree. It didn't seem bothered by the day light or having me there watching it.

Picture 4 watching me from the new feeder.

  Picture 5 Eating snow

And when it was finally done eating, instead of heading for their secret attic entrance, it glided off in the opposite direction.

In the rabbit cage we put a large pile of leaves in the front chicken wired area and an old towel in corner of the back covered section. We thought the squirrels would use that stuff to make a nest, but instead we found that they formed a large ball in one of the corners. They curled their tails over the top of the group like a blanket.

Picture 6 The flying squirrels with their tails curled.

At night they would come out a few at a time to eat the food and water we put in the cage, while the rest stayed in their ball.   The water kept freezing solid.  I remembered seeing the one squirrel eating the snow, so I got an aluminum pie pan and filled it with snow and put it in the front corner of the cage. That night I saw a cat standing next to the cage and bothering the squirrels, so I grabbed a flashlight and chased the cat away. Then I shinned the flashlight into the cage to check on the squirrels and the pan of snow was gone, not just the snow was gone, the whole pan was missing. I was very surprised and searched the cage to see what had happened to it.  It turned out that the squirrels had dragged the pan into the back corner and had totally covered it with the leaves.

Picture 7 of squirrels looking out from the back of cage

After around two weeks of catching squirrels and searching for their entrance, I finally found it.  There was very little snow that December, but after one small snow fall, I found their tracks on our roof.  I could tell the tracks were from flying squirrels because they would end at the edge of the roof, with no trees close by to jump to. Near the area of the tracks I found a small board that had come loose, and I plugged their entrance. Once they could not get into the attic any more we soon caught the last squirrel and there was no more noise in the attic. 

Now it was late December, their attic entrance was blocked, and it was time to let the squirrels go.  But I was worried about where they would go, we had over a dozen flying squirrels in the rabbit cage and I certainly didn't want them to find a new entrance into our attic. I decided to build them a winter home. After more research on the internet I found some flying squirrel box plans.  I modified the plans to hold our large group of squirrels and built them a home out of cedar wood. I made the box small enough to fit inside the rabbit cage.  When it was done, I put the box into the rabbit cage and chased the squirrels out of the back part of the cage.  Soon they found the entrance holes to their new home and they all went inside.

Picture 8 box in cage with squirrels


Picture 9  squirrel looking out of the box

Next I put large corks into the two entrance holes so the squirrels couldn't get out.  I took the box, with the squirrels trapped inside, out of the rabbit cage and I hung the box around 16 feet off the ground in a big maple tree.   I left the corks plugging the entrance holes for an hour after the box was hanging, I wanted them to calm down and not all run away as soon as I removed the corks. When I did remove the corks, not one squirrel ran out, they appeared to like their new home.

 Picture 10 holding box with squirrels

Picture 11 box in tree

Picture 12 squirrel near box in tree


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