Okay, there’s nothing new happening in my garden this time of year and I need diversions. Netflix is a big help but what I miss most on frigid days is connecting with nature, so I recently purchased a bat-house. It holds up to 100 bats and cost $45 (part of which goes toward conservation efforts, I’m told.)
But buying the house brought so much more than this lovely tree ornament; it revealed to me a whole world of bat conservation. There’s the Organization for Bat Conservation out of Michigan, from which I ordered my bat-house. Their site holds a wealth of great info, including how to arrange an in-person program for school kids – too bad it’s only available in Michigan (not to mention only for kids). The site has a bat-house-owner forum, too, where I found tales of owners counting the bats return to the house in early morning, using their binoculars to identify the species, and more wildlife excitement. See, I’m such a lousy birder that I’ve experienced only failure at identifying birds, but there are so few bat species in my area, I have a fighting a chance.
Another amazing site is produced by Bat Conservation International, based in Austin (there it is again, one of the coolest city in the U.S.) On their site you can join their Adopt a Bat program and receive an "endearing letter from your bat." Okay, that’s not my favorite part, but how about learning about their backward-facing knees and locking claws make hanging upside down easy? And then there’s the Latin American bat that eats only blood, the legendary vampire. So legendary, in fact, that the Wikipedia entry for vampires is about the legends, not the actual animal. Hey, bat conservation people, how about amending the entry?
Best of all, I learn that a small insect-eating bat can eat up to 2,000 mosquito-size insects in one night – GO TEAM!
I’ve committed to writing a bunch of columns about wildlife as part of my town’s campaign to become certified as a Wildlife Habitat Community, so you’ll be reading more soon about bats, pollinating bees, and good old butterfly gardens.
ADDENDUM, in response to a commenter, about WHERE TO PUT THE BAT-HOUSE. From the Organization for Bat Conservation site:
In the Northeast: Where you mount your bat house plays a major role in the internal temperature. Houses can be mounted on such structures as poles, sides of buildings and tall trees without obstructions. Houses placed on poles and structures tend to become occupied quicker than houses placed on trees. Bat houses should face south to southeast to take advantage of the morning sun. In northern states and Canada, bat houses need to receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. It is also advantageous to paint the house black to absorb plenty of heat (when baby bats are born, they need it very warm). Use non-toxic, latex paint to paint your bat house and only paint the outside. Your bat house should be mounted at least 15 feet above the ground, the higher the house the greater the chance of attracting bats.
Bats return from migration and awaken from hibernation as early as March in most of the U.S., but stay active year-round in the extreme southern U.S. They will be abundant through out the summer and into late fall. Most houses used by bats are occupied in the first 1 to 6 months (during the first summer the bat house was erected). If bats do not roost in your house by the end of the second summer, move the house to another location.
MORE ON WHETHER THEY WORK: I once heard a wildlife gardening expert say that it may take a while for the bats to discover the house, but once they find it, it works well.