One of the cutest animals found in the wild forests of western Washington comes out only after the sun goes down.
It’s the northern flying squirrel, the smallest of all Washington tree squirrels. Measuring roughly 10 inches in total length, this nocturnal squirrel spends its evenings trapezing from the tree-tops.
Each night it faces predators twice its size, including the great horned owl. But as is true for most forest-dwellers, the biggest threat to its survival is habitat loss.
You won’t find the flying squirrel in a clear-cut. Common throughout the west side of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, they need big, old growth trees to thrive. It's support from donors like you that will ensure the northern flying squirrel has a place to live in years to come.
The term “flying” may not be the most technically accurate description, but the flying squirrel is able to soar above its peers by distances of up to 150 feet or more. It achieves lift-off by running up a tree trunk, launching itself into the air and throwing its legs out.
“There’s a big flap of skin located between their front and back legs that allows them to glide,” said Ruth Milner, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The squirrel uses its tail as a rudder while gliding, which is its preferred method for getting from tree to tree. Other tree squirrels either jump from branch to branch or travel on the ground. Flying squirrels glide so they don’t have to spend as much time on the forest floor, where they're more vulnerable to predators.
The northern flying squirrel has big, brown eyes and cinnamon-colored fur that’s soft like a kitten’s. If you’re lucky enough to hold one in your hand, you’ll find it's docile and often makes a soft, chirping noise.
This cute appearance serves a real purpose. The soft fur is an adaption that helps them move quietly at night, without attracting the attention of hungry owls. And their large eyes help them navigate the forest in the dark.
Though common in our region, flying squirrels are seldom seen. They nest in cavities in trees—often in holes created by woodpeckers—and come out after dark to find food. Their main source of food is fungi, and they have to work hard to get the necessary nutrition from this diet.
The northern flying squirrel can be found in our Ellsworth Creek preserve on the Washington coast.March 07, 2011