The Echo
Backyards: Not Just For the Birds

The Echo

Backyards: Not Just For the Birds

Published on October 25, 2017
Written by Michelle Z. Donahue


You might not see them very often unless you happen to glance up at dusk, but your own back yard is a valuable resource for your friendly neighborhood bats. From snapping up moths and beetles in the garden to sipping from your pond or pool, bats are happy to take advantage of the resources they encounter during their nightly forays.

Want to encourage more bats to visit your yard? They need the same things as any creature trying to make it in the world: food, shelter, water and a safe place to live. And because they’ll continue to swoop along at night until it’s cold enough to head for hibernation (at least in temperate areas), there are a few things you can do even during the quiet fall season to make your own yard a safe place for bats to visit.

Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii)
Courtesy of Jeroen van der Kooij

1. Leave Your Leaves.

Nothing says “fall” quite like leaves on the ground, but before you embark on the annual tradition of tidying up, consider grabbing a pumpkin-spiced something and, to paraphrase John Lennon, let them be.

Not all bats hibernate in caves – many, like the eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) roost primarily in trees, and when the mercury drops they head for the ground, where they shelter all winter long under a warm blanket of leaves. Even a shallow layer on the ground can help hibernating bats stay hidden and hydrated.

 

Three's a crowd. The common noctule (Nyctalus noctula)
can be found roosting in trees throughout Europe.
Courtesy of Jeroen van der Kooij

2. Home Sweet Hideyhole

If you have a tree with peeling bark, deep cracks and even woodpecker damage, consider leaving it just the way it is. Though tree-roosting bats are often solitary, winter approaches, they’ll huddle together for warmth by the twos and threes in even unbelievably tight squeezes: beneath tree bark, in disused nest cavities, in woodpiles, even in cracks in fence posts.

Though bats do prefer to roost higher up—if you’re installing a bat house, for instance, you’ll want it 12 to 20 feet up—they’ll squish themselves into any available shelter to survive the cold.

 

 

3. Water for Life

Swimming might be done for the season, but if you have a pool or a pond in your yard, it still represents an important source of water for bats, especially in drier areas of the country.

A long-legged myotis (Myotis volans) takes a drink of water.
Courtesy of J. Scott Altenbach

One way to help bats safely take a drink is to leave plenty of room around your water feature, a “swoop zone” for bats to safely approach, dive down and skim the surface for a sip.

Though bats can swim, they can’t do it indefinitely: bats can avoid drowning by having access a well-placed escape ladder. That can be something as simple as a piece of plastic or wire mesh that extends into the water—but the sides must also extend into the water. Animals will often swim around and under an otherwise well-constructed ramp, never finding their way onto the safety ladder.

BCI’s Water for Wildlife guide has more tips.

 

 

Catching a few zzz's. Bechsteins bats (Myotis bechsteinii)
can be found throughout Europe.
Courtesy of Jeroen van der Kooij

4. Keep Cats Inside

As the temps drop, what could be cozier than cuddling with kitty? No matter the time of year, cat attacks are one of the most common causes of bat fatalities—consider keeping your cat indoors at night. If you are unable to keep your cat inside all night, bring it in about a half hour before sunset until an hour after sunset, the time during which bats are most active. If your cat has found a bat, your pet may have learned where the roost is and will return—potentially putting the entire colony at risk.

Also consider that cats often do not immediately kill their prey, preferring to bring it home and releasing it indoors as a “gift” to their owners!

 

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