Another Take On Flying Squirrels

By Scott Shalaway
MY ARTICLE about Flying Squirrels two weeks ago resulted in a flurry of letters from other flyer fans.

Gigi Patrignani, a reader from Western Pennsylvania, explains how important the connection between wildlife and people can become.

“My husband, Dave, is a faithful reader of your column, and he saves your articles that he knows will also be of interest to me. My reason for writing is your fun and informative column about Flying Squirrels.

“About three years ago, our cat Cupcake, who shares the den with us, began jumping back and forth on the windowsills, just as darkness fell. Cupcake began to do this every evening and, our ‘down time’ in the den reading or watching television became so chaotic that we had to learn just what was agitating her.

“After two or three evenings, our diligence paid off when we saw something run across the dining room windowsill and hop up onto a suet log. I turned on the outdoor light in that area and, stretched out vertically upside down on the log eating the suet to his little heart’s content, was the most beautiful little Flying Squirrel.

He looked right at me with those big, inquisitive, gentle eyes. I opened a window about 10 inches away from him, hoping to get a better look. I spoke in a soft voice and explained that he was welcome any time and could eat all the suet he wished.

“As I slowly closed the window, I turned slightly to my right and there, clinging to the bricks at the edge of the window, also hanging upside down and stretched out full length, was another squirrel that made immediate eye contact with me. I wasn’t sure they both would eat from the suet log at once, so I grabbed a handful of unsalted peanuts in the shell, opened the window again, and put a few on the outside windowsill.

“I tapped a peanut on the bricks, told them there were peanuts for them, closed the window again, and stood back to watch. It wasn’t but 10 seconds later when the squirrel on the bricks ran over, picked up a peanut, ran back across the bricks, and sat down on the windowsill, calmly eating his peanut.

“Over the past two years, we have trained these sweet little creatures (or they have trained us, perhaps) to come almost every evening just after dusk for peanuts. If we are a bit late putting them out, the squirrels are on the bricks waiting for us. Once in a while we may be early, and we are treated to viewing the end of their glide–they look like large autumn leaves soaring on a light breeze, and then they “stick” to the bricks.

We have seen as many as six at a time. The ones who come regularly will take a peanut from our fingers through the open window. What an exhilarating feeling when they gently take the peanut and look at you with those big eyes as if they’re saying, ‘Thank you!’

“Dr. Shalaway, these cute little squirrels made friends with us amazingly quickly, and they really initiated the contact, almost as if they wanted to get to know us as well as get peanuts. We have so much fun with them, and Cupcake now knows that if we say, ‘Are your little buddies out yet?’ that it’s time for squirrel patrol and she leaps to the windowsill above the sofa and watches quietly.”

Among the other letters, several readers questioned my use of “fairy diddle” as a common name for Flying Squirrels.

The confusion is understandable. “Fairy diddle” is a colloquial term commonly used throughout Appalachia for both Flying Squirrels and Red Squirrels. This illustrates the importance of formal scientific names.

Science avoids such confusion by assigning a two-word genus/species name to all forms of life. In print, scientific binomials are indicated by either italics or underlining.

The Southern Flying Squirrel, for example, is Glaucomys volans, while the Red Squirrel’s scientific name is Tamiasciurus hudsonicus.
–Pittsburgh Post Gazette