Bracken Cave Preserve
Jonathan Alonzo

An unforgettable site

Bracken Cave is the summer home of more than 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), making it the world’s largest bat colony and one of the largest concentration of mammals on earth. The emergence of these millions of bats, as they spiral out of the cave at dusk for their nightly insect hunt, is an unforgettable sight.

During the summer months, visitation to Bracken Cave for BCI members can be arranged by making a reservation. Guests can expect to see a tornado of bats from rustic wooden benches in beautiful Texas hill country. For more information read our FAQ page below or email bracken@batcon.org.

Due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 cases throughout South and Central Texas communities, we have canceled the 2020 bat flight season at Bracken Cave Preserve. Thank you for your understanding.

The largest known bat maternity colony in the world

The bats of Bracken Cave comprise the largest known bat maternity colony in the world, producing millions of young each year. In March and April, expectant females return to Bracken after overwintering in Mexico, Central and South America. Most males roost elsewhere in smaller groups. In the latter part of June, females give birth to a single pup, nearly doubling the cave’s population.

After the bats give birth, cave walls become densely packed with naked pups, clustering tightly at up to 500 per square foot. Babies roost separately from their mothers. Before leaving her infant in the nursery with the other pups, each mother spends up to an hour getting acquainted with her baby’s scent and vocalizations. When she returns, she accomplishes a remarkable feat: she finds her own young among the millions of others vocalizing and straining for attention. She nurses often during the day and returns from feeding to nurse twice at night.

After four to five weeks, youngsters begin learning to fly under the most difficult of conditions. If all goes well on its first flight, a young bat drops into complete darkness, flies at a speed of at least 20 feet per second, and turns an almost complete somersault with millimeter precision to land on the cave wall just seconds after taking off. It must also avoid several collisions a second with thousands of other young fliers testing their skills, while at the same time relying on an echolocation system that is itself being tested for the first time.

Collisions with other bats or cave walls can be fatal. An emergency landing is certain death; the floor is teeming with millions of carnivorous dermestid beetles that can reduce a young bat to a cleaned skeleton within a few minutes. Fatalities are high, and at least half won’t survive their first year.

By late July, young bats are ready to test their flight skills outside the cave, joining their mothers to feed on insects. Although they are weaned soon after, their initial energy demands are high, forcing nursing mothers to consume nearly their body weight in insects each night. To find sufficient food, the bats often emerge up to three hours before sundown, creating one of the most spectacular sights in all nature, an event spanning several hours.

Visitation FAQs

  • Bracken Cave and COVID-19

    Due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 cases throughout South and Central Texas communities, we have canceled the 2020 bat flight season at Bracken Cave Preserve. Thank you for your understanding.

  • Why isn’t Bracken open to the public to just stop by and go in?

    The cave is located on private property that is owned, managed and protected by Bat Conservation International. To best protect this sensitive area, we must restrict access to small, reserved groups.

  • How do I visit Bracken Cave Preserve?

    If you are interested in booking a private event or a group visit for your organization, please email bracken@batcon.org

    Individuals interested in visiting may do so by registering for a Member Bat Flight. You must be a member of BCI to register. Member Bat Flights are available each year on select dates from mid-May to mid-September. Click here to view the full Member Bat Flight schedule and information on how to register. Visit batcon.org/membership to become a member.

  • What are Member Bat Flights?

    BCI members have the opportunity to attend one of several different Member Bat Flights each year, including Evening Bat Flights, Morning Flight Returns, Camping Nights ($), and Adult only nights ($). More information is available at http://www.batcon.org/our-work/regions/usa-canada/protect-mega-populations/bracken-cave/book-a-member-night

    Due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 cases throughout South and Central Texas communities, we have canceled the 2020 bat flight season at Bracken Cave Preserve. Thank you for your understanding.

  • I am a member. How many guests can I bring to a Member Bat Flight?

    Members supporting BCI with a $45 annual membership and those who have added an annual membership to an adopt-a-bat: up to 3 guests for a total party of 4 including the member.

    Members supporting BCI monthly or with a $60 annual membership: up to 5 guests for a total party of 6 including the member.  These members will also have earlier access to register for a Bat Flight.

  • I am a member. How often can I come?

    Members can attend one Member Bat Flight at Bracken each season (1 Membership = 1 Member Bat Flight per year).

  • Why are Member Bat Flights only offered from mid-May through mid-September?

    The bats at Bracken Cave migrate south during the winter months and longer days during the summer months make for great bat viewing.

  • What are the best months to view the bats?

    July and August, because baby bats are born in June and begin flying in July; and days are longer which means more bat viewing time.

  • How long does the tour last?

    Plan to stay 2-3 hours depending on sunset. Please be on time. We cannot predict exact times when the bats will emerge, so we meet early enough so visitors have time before the emergence to learn about this important maternity colony.

  • Can I leave early if I have something important to do?

    Please be prepared to stay the entire 3 hours if you make a reservation with us. Arrangements can be made to leave early, please check with your guide upon arrival. If camping on a designated member camping night, you must plan to stay overnight – there will be no in-and-out privileges

  • Where is the cave?

     

    Turn left at Bracken Cave Road – look for the “BCI Event” sign.

  • If I am disabled will I be able to make it to the cave?

    We make every effort to accommodate guests of various ability, however Bracken Cave Preserve is a natural area. Pathways are not paved and can be uneven. We park persons with mobility needs as close as possible to the viewing area, but there is approximately 100 yards of mulched pathway between the closest parking or drop off and the viewing area. If you are concerned about your specific needs, please contact us ahead of time at bracken@batcon.org.  Please let your guide know at check-in if you will be needing accommodation.

  • How far do I have to walk?

    Approximately ½ mile on gravel trails. Please consider physical limitations and the Texas summer heat when planning your trip.

  • Can we bring alcohol?

    No.

  • Can I bring my dog (pet)?

    No, only trained service animals as defined by the ADA are permitted to enter the Preserve. Additionally, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or of the animal is not housebroken, the handler will be required to remove the animal from the premises. Additionally, it is too hot to leave any animal in your car.

  • Can I bring my baby?

    Please use discretion if you are considering bringing young children. Because Bracken Cave is located in a natural, unimproved area, children need to be supervised at all times and cannot “run-free”– so keep this in mind when making your reservation.  Childcare services are NOT provided. Tours can last up to 4 hours and Texas summers are notoriously hot. We do not recommend bringing children under the age of 6 to Bracken for these reasons.

  • Can I smoke on the property?

    No. Electronic cigarettes are also prohibited.

  • Can I bring a chair?

    Not needed as we have benches.

  • Can I bring a snack?

    Small snack foods are fine, but please, no coolers. Food attracts unwanted visitors, like fire ants and skunks.

  • What do I wear?

    Comfortable clothes and closed-toed shoes.

  • What should I bring?

    Cameras (please no flash photography), binoculars, sunscreen, bug repellant, and bottled water (again, no coolers please).

  • Are there bathrooms?

    There is a unisex Port-a-John with hand sanitizer.

  • It’s Saturday but no one is answering my emails or phone calls. Why?

    Please keep in mind that BCI is not open on the weekend thus reservation requests and questions are not processed until the following week.

  • Will my car make it in on the roads to the cave?

    Roads leading to the cave are rough and dusty. You may need to wash your car after your trip to Bracken but other than that, you should be fine.

    Motorcycles are not allowed on the preserve. Roads are rough and dusty and their noise disturbs the animals.

    Motor homes and RV’s are not allowed on the preserve, as the roads are rough and parking is limited.

  • Can we camp overnight?

    Overnight camping is reserved for member camping nights or can be arranged for scouting and educational groups (fee applies). Please contact Fran Hutchins at bracken@batcon.org