Critter Chatter by Carleen Cote: Flying squirrels may move into attics for warmth

Could sounds at night in the rafters be squirrels? This question is occasionally asked, especially this time of year. Callers ask if there could be red or gray squirrels in the walls or the ceiling. We assure them that those species do not roam at night, but perhaps they are harboring flying squirrels.

We advise them about how to trap them: never, ever by means of a killer-type trap such as one to eliminate rats. Rather, a small Havahart trap should be used, such as those used to trap pesky chipmunks in order to relocate them. Place bait in the Havahart, a piece of shelled walnut or a small piece of bread and peanut butter.

Be prepared — there could be many. The first few are easily trapped. Soon, however, they catch on that their numbers are decreasing, and they become more wary and cautious. More time will pass before they will enter the trap.

Flying squirrels are not chewers or destructive as are reds and grays. They gather together in the winter for warmth. One nest that was discovered had 80 inhabitants.

The major problem with having this many in an attic is that they eliminate in one area so that stains will appear in the ceiling and odors will be detected. Rodent urine is pungent. It is next to impossible to totally eliminate the stench from an area that has been used by a large population of any rodent.

People tell us they didn’t even know there were flying squirrels in Maine and had never seen one. Flyers are nocturnal, they have large, bulging eyes which enable them to see at night.

They actually glide rather than fly. They have a fold of skin between the front and back legs which enables them to jump and glide through trees or to the ground. If you are fortunate to have flyers close by, you may be lucky enough to see them on a bright moonlit night as they flit through the trees. They can also be heard when they jump to the ground.

Several years ago in March we had 51 flyers in residence. These were trapped out of homes in different locales: Litchfield, Waldoboro, Augusta, Benton and Burnham.

Flying squirrels usually move into a building when cold weather arrives. If they become a problem and are trapped, they should never be released outside, because they would probably freeze to death. Call the nearest rehabilitator to ask if they will hold them for the winter. We are always available to take any in need of a warm place to stay during the cold months.

Note: Carleen and Donald Cote operate the Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Route 3 in Vassalboro, a nonprofit facility, supported entirely by the Cotes’ own resources and outside donations. Call the Cotes at 445-4326 or write them at 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro, ME 04989.