Have you ever taken an evening walk and noticed bats darting in and out of the streetlights? Or wondered where those bats live and what they eat?
Have you ever taken an evening walk and noticed bats darting in and out of the streetlights? Or wondered where those bats live and what they eat? Once the sun goes down, bats can be found almost everywhere drinking from ponds, streams, and pools and feeding on insects. If you haven’t noticed them maybe it’s time to look!
WHERE TO FIND BATS
With over 1,400 species of bats in the world they can be found almost anywhere. Different species roost in different types of natural habitats, but all bats need the same basic requirements: a place to roost that is protected from predators, food to eat (insects, fruit, nectar and so on) and freestanding water to drink. Most bats drink “on the wing” meaning they don’t land to drink. They grab a drink of water in flight as they skim the surface of calm or pooled water.
Many people associate bats with caves or similar habitats – and many bats do roost in caves, mines, cliffs, boulder fields, or other rocky cracks and crevices. Bats will also roost in human-made structures that mimic natural roosts like the slots/crevices in concrete bridges or the eaves/attics of barns or other buildings.
In addition, many bat species roost in trees. Tree dwelling bats may roost along the branches like Flying Foxes, hanging from stems in the leaves, within crevices or cavities in the trunk or branches, and even among the leaves themselves. Several bat species in tropical regions make tents out of leaves by slipping inside newly emerged rolled leaves or chewing along the stem so the leaf folds around them.
Although around 75% of the world’s bats eat insects, bats species have highly diverse diets. Many bats found in tropical or subtropical regions specialize in eating fruit or drinking the sweet nectar from flowers. As a symbiotic result, the bats help disperse seeds and pollinate flowers. There are even bats that eat small animals (birds, lizards, small rodents), catch fish, or lap blood (yes, there are vampire bats).
Understanding what bats in your area need to survive can help you look for quality habitats in your own neighborhood. Look for places that are more natural or wild, where the lawns are not perfectly manicured, and trees are not excessively trimmed. Make note of areas with water such as canals, ponds, and slow streams, particularly where the water is open and accessible to a flying bat. Seek out neighborhoods, and open or green spaces that are primarily pesticide free and planted with native plants, as these spots are likely to have a higher variety of insect prey. Areas with nearby woodlands, caves, cliffs, abandoned mines, or other rocky areas may be a great place to find bats particularly early in the evening as they emerge from their roosts.
HOW TO LOOK FOR BATS
In temperate regions of the world where most bat species use sound waves or “echolocate” to navigate and pursue their prey, a great way to find bats and to identify what species of bats live in your neighborhood is to take an evening walk with a bat detector.
Bat detectors are listening devices that capture sounds bats make as they echolocate in the night sky. In the Tropics there will be fruit and nectar feeding bats that do not echolocate, but you will still be able to detect all the insectivorous species.
One of the easiest bat detectors to use is made by Wildlife Acoustics, one of Bat Conservation International’s partners. The Echo Meter Touch is a bat detector designed for personal use that can be connected to your android phone or tablet and used to hear and record bat calls using a freely downloaded app.
To begin, make a note of all the places in the area that seem like good bat habitat, then plot a walking route to follow with your bat detector. A slow pace is better, while pointing the microphone of your detector toward the sky. Start your bat walk about 30 minutes after sunset, when the light is fading. If you have the sound turned up on your bat detector, you will likely hear the bat before you see the calls appear on your screen. When that happens, watch the sky where your detector is pointed, and you may catch a glimpse of the passing bat!
If you don’t have a bat detector, you can still find bats by sitting quietly in good quality habitat where bats are likely to forage for insects or (if you live in tropical or subtropical regions) visit fruits and flowers. Watch carefully around lamplights or other dimly lit areas for bats zipping in and out as they fly through the space. You may see bats in brightly lit areas too, but your best bet is to look beyond the lights into the darker spaces in between the lights.
Are you a social bat watcher or still don’t know how to begin? Check your local nature centers who provide nature walks and see if they offer guided bat walks. Bat Conservation International recently developed a program that offers workshops to help train partner organizations to lead bat walks in their communities. You can find out more at batcon.org/batwalks
HOW TO INVITE BATS TO YOUR BACKYARD
The best way to experience bats is to invite them to your own backyard. Keeping in mind the components of good quality bat habitat, you can begin with re-wilding your yard to be more inviting to bats. This might include:
- Visiting your local plant nursery and talking to them about selecting native plant species to augment your gardens. Choose a variety of plants to offer blooms throughout the summer that attract moths, beetles and other pollinating insects that bats love to eat. Stop using pesticides and herbicides in your yard.
- Considering installing a water feature or rain garden that provides pooled water for bats and birds (just be sure to change the water regularly or use tablets to treat the water for mosquito larvae).
- Installing screens to reduce the intensity of any lights in your yard or pointing them downward to reduce light pollution into the airspace.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
All current monthly sustaining members as of August 11, 2021 will be entered into a drawing for an Echo Meter Touch 2 (iOS or Android) valued at $179, as well as a 1-on-1 live online tutorial with our Bat Walks Coordinator so you can turn your smartphone into a state-of-the-art bat detector.