During the year, 14 new flying squirrel habitats have been found


Margit Turb

This year, 96 inhabited habitats of the flying squirrel have been identified, of which 14 are new. According to the information from the Environment Agency and the Environmental Board, there are a total of 162 flying squirrel sites in Estonia entered into the register, and life activities have been identified in 96 places this year.
According to Uudo Timm, Leading Specialist of the Living Nature Department of the Environment Agency, despite the new sites, the number of inhabited places had remained at the level of last year, when 97 habitats were identified.

"This means that this year we found no traces of flying squirrel activity in some of the sites inhabited last year. It is possible that in these places, the flying squirrels could have fallen prey to pine martens or ural owls who could not access their main food, i.e., small rodents, very well under the deep snow carpet that remained on the ground for a long time and focused more on food moving in the treetops, including flying squirrels. Similar to flying squirrels, pine martens and ural owls also use older forests primarily in the forest landscape, so the probability of a predator and prey meeting there increases significantly," explained Uudo Timm. He added that in 2020, 76 flying squirrel habitats were identified in Estonia.

This year, several work campaigns were organized to inventory the potential habitats of the flying squirrel, in which both volunteers of the Estonian Fund for Nature and employees of the Environmental Board, the Environment Agency and RMK participated. During these efforts, a total of 12 new sites were found. "We are sincerely glad that so many people care about the well-being of the flying squirrel and contribute to the search for their habitats. Many thanks to all the volunteers," said Liisa Rennel, an expert in the LIFE project of the Environmental Board.  

Despite the new habitats found in several consecutive years, the status of flying squirrels in Estonia is still not good. "The fact that several sites in the Avinurme and Remniku regions, which were inhabited last year, this year did not show any traces of life activity is a cause for concern. In these areas, the nearest known inhabited sites are now about 6 km away from each other, which is already too long a distance for animals to court each other during the breeding season," stated Uudo Timm, Leading Specialist of the Environmental Agency. 

Searching for the flying squirrels, especially in potential habitats in the vicinity of inhabited places and possible connecting roads, contributes to the discovery of new sites. The habitat model developed by the Environment Agency, which is used as part of the flying squirrel's LIFE project, as well as RMK's pre-felling inventories of the flying squirrel's possible habitats, help to determine such sites.

New sites may emerge in several ways. Young animals have to leave the "home" when they reach a certain age and find a new free home area to stay in. For this, a forest of the right age and structure and of sufficient size is necessary. Connecting corridors is also necessary, as flying squirrels do not usually cross open areas. Gliding from tree to tree with long jumps and hiding in hollows are important elements of a flying squirrel's survival strategy. Moving along the ground, along low brush and young stands, they are easy prey for predators and birds of prey.  

Andri Küüts, 5745 0332, andri.kuuts@keskkonnaamet.ee