Thirty-one southern flying squirrels have made a temporary home at the Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center after being displaced from their homes this winter. Two groups of the tiny, but healthy adult mammals were found in Pennsylvania: Sixteen were found inside the attic of a home; nineteen were removed when their habitat was destroyed by construction work.
“They definitely have been the largest intake we’ve had in one sitting in quite some time,” said Katie Kefalos, director of wildlife rehabilitation. “These are special cases because they technically don’t fall under the categories of orphaned, injured, or sick — which is what we’re here for.”
The squirrels will be held at the center in Verona, Pa. until about April, Kefalos estimated. That’s when they can ensure the weather will be warmer and the squirrels’ food will be accessible. Typically they eat nuts and bugs, like acorns, moths, mealworms and crickets.
Southern flying squirrels are nocturnal, so most of their activity takes place at night, as evidenced by footage the wildlife center has captured of the two groups in their separate enclosures. They’re best known for their ability to seemingly “fly” through the air, but that’s due to extra skin between their legs called a “patagium.”
“They use that to glide from tree-to-tree, branch-to-branch, guiding their way down,” Kefalos said. “It’s not true flight. The only true flying mammal is the bat.”
When the 31 southern flying squirrels were brought to the wildlife center by the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission and Tamarack Wildlife Center in Saegertown, Pa., they were assessed for disease or injury. Since then, Kefalos said the team has been pretty hands-off, since they plan on returning them to the wild in a few months.
“We just go into their outdoor enclosures to do a general spot clean and give them fresh food and fresh water, overall enrichment to keep them active at nights and keep them going and mentally stimulated,” she said. “But that’s pretty much it.
With “baby season” coming up, Kefalos said her team will keep an eye out for any pregnant squirrels. She also encourages residents considering removing trees or other potential homes for the squirrels to double check for the furry animals — especially babies.
The groups being housed at the wildlife center will be returned within a mile of where they were found “so they have a sense of where they are rather than just completely uprooting them,” according to Kefalos.
In the meantime, the southern flying squirrels will spend their next few months lounging in hammocks in their forest enclosure. And while the public won’t be able to interact with them, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center does offer a number of programs for children and adults interested in learning more about conservation in Pennsylvania. Wildlife education specialist Katie Campbell one summer program called Camp Rescue offers first-through-sixth graders six weeks of educational sessions. The first three weeks are spent at the wildlife center and the next three at the group’s domestic East End shelter.
Educators like Campbell and animal “ambassadors” also visit the region’s libraries, schools and special events.