These nocturnal rodents live in arboreal forests and are one of only two flying squirrel species in North America. They are identified by short, plump bodies with a flat tail, rounded ears and large black eyes. Coloring can differ slightly, ranging from a reddish-brown to a light gray.
Despite their name, the squirrels do not actually fly but rather glide from tree to tree using fleshy membranes between their legs called patagium. The patagium catches updrafts and slows their descent. This is similar to how a parachute functions. The only true flying mammal in the world is the bat, although bats also have patagiums to aid in staying airborne. Remarkably maneuverable in the air, the squirrel can bank up to 90-degrees to avoid obstacles. When approaching a landing spot, the animal will lift its tail, which causes the body to pivot upward so it can touch down with all four feet.
Most of their food sources are found in and around the trees where they nest. They will forage for mushrooms, nuts, insects, bird eggs and flowers. Truffles, which are the fruit produced by certain varieties of fungi, are a favorite food and the squirrels are able to locate them from great distances by smell alone.
These rodents are hunted by a variety of predators, but like the Red Tree Vole it is a primary prey animal for the endangered Northern Spotted Owl. Other predators may include Great Horned Owls, Bobcats and Canada Lynx.
The Northern Flying Squirrel found on the Pacific Coast is a genetically distinct animal from other populations on the continent but is considered the same species.
The Northern Flying Squirrel resides in mostly old growth conifer or mixed-conifer forests. The squirrel’s nest, which is constructed of twigs, leaves, conifer needles and feathers, can be found in trees from 3 to 60 feet (1 to 18 m) above the forest floor.
The squirrel populations in Oregon have been in decline due to habitat destruction. Not only is this a concern for the squirrel’s fate, but also for the threatened Northern Spotted Owl which hunts it. It is not currently listed as Threatened or Endangered. There are two endangered subspecies of this squirrel but neither lives in Oregon.