Bat House Warnings – A Reality Check

5/6/21
Merlin Tuttle

Observations of heat-stressed, sometimes dead bats associated with bat houses, have led to unfortunate speculation that bat houses can become ecological traps that lure bats to their death. It is true that numerous bat houses are badly built and sold with unreasonable claims and little, if any, instruction on bat needs. Vendors of such houses defraud customers and threaten the credibility of bat conservation. Both vendors and customers can benefit from education and certification. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that poorly constructed bat houses threaten bat survival. Bats are smart enough to avoid bad bat houses except when desperate from lack of alternatives.

Loss of vast numbers of traditional roosts is a key cause of bat decline. Most species that occupy bat houses today originally relied on loose bark and cavities in snags that were often lost during storms. This likely explains why bats prefer to live where multiple roosting options are available.

 

Radio-tracking studies show that occupants of natural roosts frequently move among several, apparently to escape predators and parasites or find optimal temperatures. During severe weather, large numbers may die even in traditional roosts. With so few remaining, bats often fail to find ideal homes.

 

When providing bat houses, the best way to reduce mortality is to offer a variety of roosting options. Several houses ideally should be colored, positioned, or vented to provide a range of temperature. Needs vary between cool versus hot weather extremes.

 

Northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) emerging from beneath tree bark. Many bats roost beneath lose bark on old snags.
A nursery colony of Fringed myotis (Myotis thysanodes) reared young beneath exfoliating bark on this old snag in Arizona.

Selecting a quality bat house, as well as proper placement, are crucial to success. In our forthcoming book, Danielle Cordani and I will provide plans for houses that maximally meet bat needs over a wide range of temperature. However, a single house is unlikely to prove ideal for all species and locations.

Where sufficient habitat exists, especially within easy reach of overwintering locations, available houses often become crowded, and growing numbers of young may perish for lack of available space. The same occurs at traditional roosts. We simply don’t see it. And we can’t prevent it, though careful monitoring and providing more bat house options can help.

We installed this bat house, donated by BatsBirdsYard.com, for testing in a central Texas pecan orchard. Nut growers increasingly are using bat houses in pest management.

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Counting Free-tailed Bats in Bridges

9/10/18
By Merlin Tuttle

Merlin inspects Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) moments after removing them from their bridge crevice roost for counting.

For many years we’ve wondered just how many Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) could cram into a single 18-inch-deep bridge crevice. Accurate counts of large colonies are difficult no matter how they’re made. However, when estimating bridge colonies, it would help if we knew the number, using an average horizontal foot of crevice.

The solution seemed easy. Two years ago, Glen Novinger, an MTBC member and I, inserted two, three-quarter-inch-thick wooden frames, each encompassing a square foot of interior space, into bridge crevices of the same width while the bats were out feeding. The idea was to later slowly remove them, forcing those roosting inside to exit into a cloth-lined bag from which we would count them.

However, the bats were full of surprises. The first night we waited patiently till half an hour after we’d seen the last ones leave—or at least that was what we thought! But when we approached to install our devices, roughly half remained inside. I couldn’t help but wonder how many emergence counts had missed those that, for whatever their reasons, didn’t emerge at sundown. (more…)

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