In the spring of 2008, Leland Brun, a wildlife rehabilitator, was called when a baby screech owl was found at Mount Hope Cemetery (Epitaph Vol.28, No. 4, Fall 2008). Upon visiting Mount Hope he speculated that flying squirrels were also living there, but being nocturnal and dwelling in trees they are rarely seen. While there have been sightings of deer, turkeys, red foxes and other wildlife, there were no reports of flying squirrels.
Flying squirrels don't really fly; they glide. They have extra skin stretching from their forearms to their hind legs that allows them to glide over 200 feet. In winter they live in large groups of 8-20 in trees cavities usually made by woodpeckers. They are omnivores and eat acorns, berries, fungi, insects and small mice. There are two species of flying squirrels in New York. The Northern Flying Squirrel is 10-14 inches in overall length and has brown fur on its back and a gray belly. The Southern Flying Squirrel is smaller, measuring 8-10 inches and has gray fur with a white belly.
One day in December 2009, I was walking my dog along Indian Trail and saw a small dead animal curled up in the road. It was bigger than a mouse but smaller than a chipmunk, with large eyes (suggesting that it was nocturnal), beautiful thick gray fur which reminded me of a chinchilla, and a flat furry tail. I pushed it onto a pile of oak leaves just off the side of the road. That evening I looked through one of my field guides to identify the rodent, and while scanning the pictures, I found it: a Southern Flying Squirrel. I was so excited I went back the next morning to see if it was still there…it was! I gently uncurled it to find the telltale loose skin on its sides. This confirmed that flying squirrels indeed are present in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Text by former FOMH Trustee Sue O'Neil
Note: The presence of flying squirrels in Mount Hope continues in 2021.