14 new flying squirrel habitats discovered this year
This year, 96 flying squirrel habitats have been identified in Estonia, 14 of which are new. According to the Environment Agency and the Environmental Board, there are a total of 162 registered flying squirrel sites in Estonia, with signs of habitation detected in 96 sites this year.
Uudo Timm, a senior specialist in the wildlife department of the Ministry of the Environment, said that despite the discovery of these 14 new sites, the overall number of sites inhabited by flying squirrels has remained at around the same level as last year, when 97 habitats were detected.
"It means that this year, we did not find any signs of flying squirrel activity in some of the sites that were occupied last year. It is possible that at these sites, flying squirrels may have been preyed upon by pine martens or Ural owls, which were unable to get their staple food (small carnivores) very easily due to the deep snow cover that remained on the ground for a long time. So, they concentrated more on food moving through the tree branches (instead), including flying squirrels." Like flying squirrels, martens and owls primarily inhabit older areas of forest, so the likelihood of predator-prey encounters increases significantly," Timm explained.
This year, a number of campaigns have been organized to create an inventory of potential habitats for the flying squirrel, with the participation of volunteers from the Estonian Nature Foundation, as well as staff from the Environmental Board, Environment Agency and the State Forest Management Center (RMK). A total of 12 new habitats were found in the process.
"We are sincerely delighted that so many people care about the welfare of flying squirrels and are helping to search for their habitats. Many thanks to all the volunteers," said Liisa Rennel, LIFE project expert at the Environment Agency.
Despite finding new habitats for several consecutive years, the status of the flying squirrel in Estonia remains far from good.
"It is worrying that several sites in the Avinurme and Remnik areas, which were occupied last year, have not shown any signs of activity this year. In these areas, the nearest known inhabited sites are now about six kilometers apart, which is already too far for the creatures to be able to court each other during the breeding season," said Timm.
Searching for potential habitats and possible communication routes, especially in the vicinity of the (known) settlements, will help to identify new sites. New sites can be found in several ways.
When they reach a certain age, young flying squirrels must leave their "home" and find a new, free area to settle. For this to happen, they need an area of forest, which is the right age, structure and size. Connecting corridors are also necessary because, as a rule, flying squirrels do not cross over open areas. Gliding from tree to tree with long jumps and hiding in small gaps are essential elements of the species' survival strategy. When moving along the ground, through low scrub and young trees, they become easy targets for predators.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski