Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 29, 2000 - Issue 15

Ball Game of the Birds and the Animals
Cherokee Legend

Long ago, the animals sent a message to the birds. "Let us have a big ball game. We will defeat you in a big ball game."

The birds answered, "We will meet you. We will defeat you in a big ball game."

So the plans were made. The day was set. At a certain place, all the animals gathered, ready to throw the ball to the birds in the trees.

On the side of the animals were the bear, the deer, and the terrapin, or turtle. The bear was heavier than the other animals. He was heavier than all the birds put together. The deer could run faster than the other animals could. The turtle had a very thick shell. So the animals felt sure that they would win the game.

The birds, too, felt sure that they would win. On their side were the eagle, the hawk, and the great raven. All three could fly swiftly. All three had far seeing eyes. All three were strong and had sharp beaks that could tear.

In the treetops the birds smoothed their feathers. Then they watched every movement of the animals on the ground below them. As they watched, two small creatures climbed up the tree toward the leader of the birds. These two creatures were but a little bigger than mice.

"Will you let us join in the game?" they asked the leader of the birds.

The leader looked at them for a moment. He saw that they had four feet.

"Why don't you join the animals?" he asked them."Because you have four feet, you really belong on the their side."

"We asked to play the game on their side," the tiny creatures answered. "But they laughed at us because we are so small. They do not want us."

The leader of the birds felt sorry for them. So did the eagle, the hawk, and the other birds.

"But how can they join us when they have no wings?" the birds asked each other.

"Let us make wings for the little fellows," one of the birds suggested.

"We can make wings from the head of the drum," another bird suggested.

The drum had been used in the dance the night before. Its head was the skin of a groundhog. The birds cut two pieces of leather from it, shaped them like wings, and fastened them to the legs of one of the little fellows.

Thus they made the first bat.

The leader gave directions. He said to the bat, "When I toss the ball, you catch it. Don't let it touch the ground."

The bat caught it. He dodged and circled. He zigzagged very fast. He kept the ball always in motion, never letting it touch the ground. The birds were glad they had made wings for him.

"What shall we do with the other little fellow?" asked the leader of the birds. "We have used up all our leather in making the wings for the bat."

The birds thought and thought. At last one of them had an idea.

"Let us make wings for him by stretching his skin," suggested the eagle.

So eagle and hawk, two of the biggest birds, seized the little fellow. With their strong bills they tugged and pulled at his fur. In a few minutes they stretched the skin between his front feet and his hind feet. His own fur made wings.

Thus they made the first flying squirrel.

When the leader tossed the ball, flying squirrel caught it and carried it to another tree. From there he threw it to the eagle. Eagle caught it and threw it to another bird. The birds kept the ball in the air for some time, but at last they dropped it.

Just before it reached the ground, the bat seized it. Dodging and circling and zigzagging, he kept out of the way of the deer and other swift animals. At last bat threw the ball in at the goal. And so he won the game for the birds!

The End

Note: A few issues back, we learned about's the link to revisit that information


Glaucomys volans


The so-called Flying Squirrels do not actually fly, but glide by means of a furred, sheetlike membrane along the sides of the body between the fore and hind limbs. Only two species occur in North America: the Southern Flying Squirrel is found in extreme southeastern Canada, the eastern half of the United States, Mexico, and Central America. The Northern Flying Squirrel is found mainly in Canada, Alaska, and the western and northern parts of the conterminous United States.

Flying Squirrels are nocturnal animals, becoming active only after dark. They eat a variety of different foods such as berries, fruits, acorns, and nuts. They will also feed on animal matter such as insects, nesting birds and eggs, and the flesh of dead animals. Like other squirrels, flying squirrels often store food for the winter months.

Flying squirrels nest primarily in tree cavities, especially abandoned woodpecker holes, but may also construct summer nests of leaves, twigs, and bark. During the winter, many Flying Squirrels will often den together.

Breeding takes place in January and February and again in June and July. Litters usually range from 1 to 6 individuals with 2 to 3 being the average. The young are born blind and hairless with their eyes and ears closed. By four weeks of age, the young are covered with hair and their eyes are open. They are weaned by six weeks of age but remain with their mother until the next litter is born.

Southern Flying Squirrels are found primarily in mature hardwoods and mixed conifer-hardwood forests, especially those with old growth trees which produce abundant food and plenty of cavities for nesting and denning.

Southern Flying Squirrels are abundant throughout their range and are adaptable animals, often living close to human residences. If there is a lack of suitable natural denning sites, flying squirrels will often take up residence in attics or abandoned buildings, especially during the winter months. They are easily attracted to nesting boxes and can often be found feeding from bird feeders at night. They can often be approached quite closely and are easily observed at bird feeders as long as you move slowly and quietly. Flying squirrels are sometimes kept as pets, a practice that is illegal without special captive permits.

More Flying Squirrel Facts:

  • Actual encounters with humans are rare because flying squirrels are exclusively nocturnal in their activity. They live in woods with nut or acorn-bearing trees, a water supply, scattered dead trees and snags. They sometimes nest in attics. Autumn nights are best for observing flying squirrels because they are busy gathering food for winter. Flying squirrels are less active during cold winter weather.
  • Flying squirrels can be identified by their high-pitched, excited-sounding "cheeps" often heard within the first several hours after sunset. They use these sounds to keep track of one another and offer warnings. Sounds produced by flying squirrels sometimes exceed the upper limits of frequencies heard by human ears.
  • Flying squirrels feed on hickory nuts, acorns, wild cherry pits and other seeds. They also eat dormant insects, lichens and fungi. In warmer weather, they eat various types of vegetation, including mushrooms, persimmons, wild grapes and the bark of many hardwood trees.
  • Though they do not hibernate, flying squirrels nest together in groups during winter. They can reduce their metabolic rate and body temperature to conserve energy, and they benefit from one another's radiant heat. Social reasons also encourage the behavior among related flying squirrels.
  • The females are attentive mothers. They maintain several secondary nests to which they can bring their young to keep them safe. A flying squirrel was once seen moving her young during a forest fire and being singed in the process. Also, she will not hesitate to defend her young, even if is she is outnumbered or if her foe is larger. Nests are made out of shredded bark and/or spanish moss.
  • Baby flying squirrels are usually weaned when they are about six to eight weeks old. The newly born young are usually about 2.5 inches long from head to tip of tail and weigh less than one-fifth of an ounce. They are blind, pink and hairless. Their eyes open in about three weeks. The gliding membrane, however, is already fully developed. They can live at least five years in the wild and 12 years in captivity.
  • The gliding capabilities of the young develop quickly. By eight weeks they can execute 90-degree turns, lateral loops and other maneuvers like adults. Adults often make glides of up to 160 feet; the record is about 100 yards.
  • Their major nocturnal predators are owls and snakes, particularly rat and corn snakes in the Southeast. Racoons also like to make prey of flying squirrels.
  • The peak breeding seasons for southern flying squirrels are February through March and August through October.
Flying Squirrel



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