USA-Canada
Protect Mega-Populations

Austin Bat Education Program

Spectators enjoy watching the Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the
Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, TX. Credit: MerlinTuttle.com

Every year BCI and our volunteers spend summer nights at the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, educating the 140,000+ visitors about the biology, behaviour, value, and history of Austin’s famous bats. Our volunteer educators are the key to the success of this program—they are bat ambassadors, answering questions from the public and spreading the conservation message.

The program runs from April through September and BCI’s volunteer educators assist staff in running an education booth at the bridge on Friday nights (and occasionally other nights) throughout the summer. Shifts run from 2 to 3 hours each night, starting at 7 and lasting until the bats have emerged for their nightly meal of insects—lots and lots of insects (up to 10 tons nightly)!

Becoming a BCI volunteer educator is easy. Each spring, usually in March, we host two training sessions for new and returning volunteers—attendance is required at only one. We will teach you all you need to know about the history and biology of Austin’s iconic Mexican free-tailed bats, and give you plenty of resources to study on your own. You will also get the chance to meet a live Mexican free-tailed bat (a volunteer, just like you!).

Volunteer docents
BCI volunteers Don Bergquist (left) and Lee Mackenzie (right) help
educate visitors about Austin's Mexican free-tailed bats.
Credit: Edith Bergquist

Next year’s training sessions will be announced in January 2018. Next year’s training sessions will be announced in January 2018, but if you still want to join us this summer, but couldn’t come to our training sessions, we will still find a way to give you the information you need! Email Danielle O'Neil at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .





Protecting Sites in USA-Canada

In collaboration with a wide array of partners, Bat Conservation International (BCI) strives to protect sites in the US and Canada where large mega-populations of bats reside. Our site conservation plans address the long-lasting protection and management of these populations of bats and their habitats and the abatement of serious threats that may put their survival at risk.

The mega-population sites identified for priority conservation include areas containing a high percentage of the total population of an individual species, including major hibernacula, roosting colonies, migratory concentrations, etc.

Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country in the south-central portion of the U.S. contains at least 11 roosting sites for the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) that hold large (>500,000 bats) congregations of this species during some portion of the year. Although the species is wide-spread across western North America, southward through Central America, and into the arid and semi-arid regions of western and southern South America, central Texas and Mexico are home to the largest concentrations of this species.

This species was historically important to the local economy because of the guano market. Officials of the Southern Pacific Railroad estimated that they annually transported 65 carloads of 30,000 pounds each from Texas, making bat guano the state's largest mineral export before oil in the early 1900s. Bracken and Frio caves in Central Texas, on average, each produced 75 to 80 tons annually. Today these same bat populations are still an economic boon, saving central Texas cotton farmers about $74 per acre in pest control. A 2011 article in Science estimated the total value of bats to U.S. agriculture at roughly $23 billion a year. Additionally, local economies benefit from tourism related to bat emergence viewing at the 10 sites with public viewing opportunities.



Congress Avenue Bridge

(Official name: Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge)

A Little History

© MerlinTuttle.org

Every summer night, hundreds of people gather to see the world's largest urban bat colony emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas. These 1.5 million bats are fun to watch, but they're also making our world a better place to live.

When engineers reconstructed the Congress Avenue Bridge in 1980 they had no idea that new crevices beneath the bridge would make an ideal bat roost. Although bats had lived there for years, it was headline news when they suddenly began moving in by the thousands. Reacting in fear and ignorance, many people petitioned to have the bat colony eradicated.

About that time, Merlin Tuttle brought BCI to Austin and told the city the surprising truth: that bats are gentle and incredibly sophisticated animals; that bat-watchers have nothing to fear if they don't try to handle bats; and that on the nightly flights out from under the bridge, the Austin bats eat from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests.

As the city came to appreciate its bats, the population under the Congress Avenue Bridge grew to be the largest urban bat colony in North America. With up to 1.5 million bats spiraling into the summer skies, Austin now has one of the most unusual and fascinating tourist attractions anywhere.

The Austin American-Statesman created the Statesman Bat Observation Center adjacent to the Congress Bridge, giving visitors a dedicated area to view the nightly emergence. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people visit the bridge to witness the bat flight, generating ten million dollars in tourism revenue annually.

How to Share With Just Friends

How to share with just friends.

Posted by Facebook on Friday, December 5, 2014

The Weather Channel recently visited Congress Ave Bridge in Austin to learn about this amazing place and the threats to bats across North America

A Little Background

Bat in glove
The pink, hairless babies quickly grow. In about five weeks, with the help of their
mothers they learn to fly and begin to hunt insects on their own. Until that time,
the mothers nurse their babies, each locating her pup among the thousands by
its distinctive voice and scent.

Austin's bridge bats are Mexican free-tailed bats. They migrate each spring from central Mexico to various roosting sites throughout the southwestern U.S. Most of the colony is female, and in early June each one gives birth to a single baby bat, called a pup.

At birth the babies weigh one-third as much as their mothers (the equivalent of a human giving birth to a 40-pound child!).








A Big Challenge

Bat statue Austin

Bat Conservation International (BCI) has been instrumental in protecting and promoting the now famous Congress Avenue Bridge bat colony as an eco-tourism destination, but as our name indicates, we work worldwide to protect bats and their habitats. Despite the popularity of the bridge bats in Austin, bats are still among the world's least appreciated and most endangered animals. Like other wildlife, bats suffer from habitat loss and environmental pollution, and now, the added mortality from White-nose syndrome and wind turbines, but persecution from humans remains a primary cause of their decline.



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