How to attract bats to your backyard
Bats are an important part of a functioning ecosystem, and with natural habitats in decline they need our help now more than ever. You can welcome bats in your very own backyard by providing food, water, and shelter – creating bat habitat in even the smallest of spaces. In return, insectivorous bats will eat many of your unwanted yard and garden pests.
Plus, their nightly displays of aerial acrobatics are fascinating to observe.
Check out our Guide to Gardening for Bats.
5 Easy WAYS TO WELCOME BATS TO YOUR YARD OR GREENSPACE
Bat Gardens Tips
1. Plant native plants and trees
Many bats eat night-flying insects, so you’ll want to plant flowers that either stay open through the night or bloom through the evening. Use native plants that match your region and site conditions, as they have evolved to attract native insects. Remember: native plants attract native insects that in turn provide bat food! Other things to consider:
Moth host plants – Bats love to eat moths, so planting host plants will ensure you have lots of these preferred bugs at your backyard bat buffet.
Trees – Trees are beneficial in so many ways. They don’t close their flowers at night, and they are host plants to many kinds of native insects. Oak trees especially are a boon to adding diversity and richness to any habitat. Added plus, trees create roosting options for cavity roosting bats and our solitary tree bats too!
Light-colored flowers – Moths and other nighttime pollinators are more attracted to flowers that are either white or very light in color.
The “stinkier” the better – Insects are also attracted to fragrant flowers and plants.
2. Don’t tear down that dead tree
For many bat species, dead trees are like a comfy lodge or beach house – a great hangout spot. Some bats like to squeeze between the narrow, rough space between the tree bark and wood, while others seek out tree hollows to roost. If a dead tree does not pose a safety or property concern, consider leaving it standing. If you do need to fell a dead tree, you can always leave the wood on the ground to rot. It will still attract lots of different insects.
3. Keep it Organic
Avoid the use of pesticides in your garden and the use of remedial timber treatment agents in structures. Both can lead to the poisoning of bats. Consider bats in your backyard and neighborhood as natural pest control. Insectivorous bats devour astonishing quantities of night-flying insects. In fact, pregnant or nursing mothers of some bat species may consume up to half their body weight in insects each night.
4. Keeps cats indoors
Cats and bats don’t mix. Period. Cat attacks are one of the most common causes of bat (and bird) casualties. Keep your cat indoors at night, especially during summer months when bat mothers are feeding their young. Make certain your cat is indoors a half hour before sunset and a half hour after sunset when bats are most active. If your cat finds a bat, it may learn where the roost is located, which places an entire colony at risk.
5. Install a bat house
Setting up a bat house near your home is a great way to get involved in protecting bats. Plus, it provides you with the opportunity to observe bats’ fascinating behavior. Bat houses are great for certain species of bats, but they are a bit complicated and frustrating to get right. Bat gardens are a great way to get started helping bats, and they also provide habitat for other wildlife! See below for information on purchasing or building your own bat house.
Providing water to bats is very important, but it’s not as simple as putting out a bird bath. Since bats drink on the wing (meaning they swoop down and drink while flying) they need at least 7-10 feet in length of water to drink successfully. If you have a pond or water trough, these can work well. Just make sure you put in an exit ramp or two in case bats (or other wildlife) fall in! Even a pool can act as a water source- although it’s unknown the effects chlorine can have. Ensure that the bats have a clear path to the water by clearing away vegetation and other clutter surrounding the water source.
Quick Bat House Tips
While there are many designs you could use for your bat house, we recommend the ones below. If you deviate from these, be sure to follow bat house best practices.
Pre-made bat houses can be purchased. However, it’s important to know that bat boxes must meet certain criteria to be effective. Use the following criteria to evaluate your purchase:
- A bat house should be at least 24” high x 16” wide. Smaller bat houses do not offer adequate thermal stability.
- A bat house should not contain fabric or mesh. Roosting boards and landing pads should consist of roughened wood.
While it may seem simpler to purchase a cheap bat house, know that improper ones can actually cause harm to bats.
An In-Depth Guide with FAQ’s
Bat Conservation International conducted a 10-year study to confirm best practices and provides you with guiding tips on where to locate and install your bat house(s).
Remember, these are guiding tips. You should not be discouraged from installing a bat house if all conditions cannot be met.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where should I place my bat house?
Bats prefer roosts mounted on buildings or other large wooden or concrete structures rather than roosts mounted on poles or trees. Pole mounts can work well in moderate to hot climates that do not experience extreme temperature swings between day and night. Tree mounts should be avoided. They are vulnerable to predation and almost always too shaded. Bat houses should receive at least six hours of daily sun exposure. Bat houses should have a nearby water source, preferably less than a quarter-mile away.
How high? And what about trees?
The bottom of bat houses should be located at least 10 feet off the ground. Twelve to 20 feet off the ground is even better. Bat houses should have 10-14 feet of clear space above any vegetation below the bat house. Bat houses should be mounted 20 to 30 feet from the nearest trees.
What about more than one roost?
Bats are more likely to move into a group of three or more roosts. Multiple bat houses can be mounted side-by-side on buildings and structures or mounted back-to-back on poles. Some bat house owners number bat houses to identify roosts. Some paint north-facing bat houses a light color and south-facing roosts a dark color. You can play around with different combinations of color and directionality to offer a variety of thermal options for the bats.
What should I pay attention to when building my bat house?
Be sure to carefully seal all the seams. Bat houses work best when they effectively trap warm air. It makes the temperatures more stable. Be sure to roughen the roosting boards and landing pads. Avoid using oil-based paints and stains. Make sure there are no nails or screws sticking into the inside of the house.
If you install it, will they come?
Installing a bat house does not guarantee that bats will roost. Seasonal migration, geographic location, local availability of other roosts, specific roosting behaviors and presence of predators in the area all have an influence on use of bat houses. Sometimes bats can take a couple years to move in, so patience is key. Individual bats or small groups may also use bat houses temporarily (for a night or two) so it may be hard to pinpoint if bats have been using the house.
If you don’t see bats using your bat house you may be able to find local experts to help you evaluate your placement and construction. They will know your area best and be able to provide more detail than we can.
Should I mount my bat house on a pole or on a building?
Rocket boxes work only on poles but the 3-4 chambered houses we recommend work best ideally on a building (but can be put on a pole as well). A building offers a more consistent temperature than a pole mount.
What type of siding should my building have if I am trying to install a bat house?
Wood, brick, and stone siding work the best. Bat houses mounted on metal siding rarely attract bats.
What color should I paint my bat house?
The color you should paint your bat house doesn’t matter as much as the shade of that color. This varies based on your area and its climate, as the different colors absorb different amounts of heat. Average high temperatures in July should be used when determining the color needed on your bat box:85 or less: Black. 85-95: Dark or medium colors like brown, gray, and green. 95-100: Medium/light colors. 100 and higher: Light colors or white
What kind of paint should I use to paint my bat house?
Any kind of exterior-grade paint is fine if it’s not oil-based – only use water-based paints. For the inside we recommend 2 coats of water-based stain. Water-based paint is ok, but if you use that make sure it does not fill in the grooves.
I want to put up a bat house, but I’m worried about rabies.
We completely understand your concern about rabies and bats. The truth is that any wild mammal can carry rabies (so the squirrels in your yard, raccoons, foxes, etc.). Bats do not carry or have rabies any more than any other wild mammals. The main thing to remember is that if you see a bat on the ground it’s best to use common sense (like you would with any wild animal). Tell your kids to come get you and not try to touch them or pick them up. If you do pick them up and take them to a rehabber you want to be sure to wear thick gloves the whole time. The benefits of having a bat house far outweigh the very small risk of having a rabid bat in your yard. They eat lots of bugs (including mosquitos) and are very important for our ecosystem. Bats are losing roost sites everyday due to human disturbances and urbanization, so providing a bat house is a great way to help them!
Why do you no longer recommend the single chamber bat house?
We found the larger houses with more chambers much more successful. Single chamber houses tend to be less thermally stable than multi-chamber houses. That doesn’t mean that a single-chamber house wouldn’t work but we feel that the larger houses provide more meaningful habitat to the bats.