Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, December 22, 2013 8:28 PM
"They are generalists in their foraging behavior and habitat selections, seemingly showing little preference for feeding over water vs. land, or in forests vs. clearings. Like all insect-eating bats, big brown bats contribute mightily to a healthy environment and are vital players in the checks and balances of insect pests. Numerous feeding studies of big brown bats exist indicating that they consume significant crop and forest pests including ground beetles, scarab beetles, cucumber beetles, snout beetles and stink bugs, in addition to numerous species of moths and leaf hoppers. Like many bat species, reproductive females often can consume their body weight in insects each night. In fact, a colony of 150 big brown bats can consume enough adult cucumber beetles in one summer to prevent egg-laying that would produce 33 million of their root-worm larvae, a major pest of corn (Whitaker, 1995)."
I've been considering installing a bat house or two here at Havenscourt Homestead for several years. But for some reason I always get part way into my research and then some bright shiny distraction comes along and then... well you know how it goes.
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to 15 different species of bats.
- Little Brown Myotis - Myotis lucifugus
- Long-Eared Myotis - Myotis evotis
- Big Brown Bat - Eptesicus fuscus
- Brazilian (Mexican) Free-Tailed Bat -Tadarida brasiliensis
- Yuma Myotis - Myotis yumanensis
- Fringed Myotis / Fringed Tailed Bat - Myotis thysanodes
- Long-Legged Myotis - Myotis volans
- California Myotis - Myotis californicus
- Silver-Haired Bat -Lasionycteris noctivagans
- Greater Bonneted Bat / Western Mastiff Bat -Eumops perotis
- Western Red Bat -Lasiurus blossevillii
- Hoary Bat - Lasiurus cinereus
- Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat / Townsend's Long-Eared Bat - Corynorhinus townsendii
- Pallid Bat - Antrozous pallidus
- Canyon Bat / Western Pipistrelle -Pipistrellus hesperus
With that many species, it would seem that getting bats to move into a new bat house would be easy. But not so fast my friends. Only the first four bats on the list above are known to take up residence in man made bat houses on a regular basis. So although some species like the Little Brown and the Big Brown tend to move in more readily, other species are secretive and rarely seen.
Why bats? Why not! I already have a drought tolerant native garden, constructed wetlands, a small pond, bee hives, native bee housing, bird housing and natural food sources. All of these things have contributed to having a successful garden and orchard as well as increasing the biodiversity of my neighborhood. Insectivorous bats are extremely beneficial. So why not roll out the welcome mat and try to attract them? I can't think of a single good reason not to. But I can think of thousands of little creepy, crawly, munchie, buzzing, and biting reasons to provide them with a home.
Oh yeah, let's not forget the added bonus - Bat Guano!!! Depending upon how and where the bat house is mounted, it can be quite easy to collect this wonderful soil amendment. Heck, I might just position my bat house directly over my compost bin. Talk about low / no maintenance solutions. This would be a great way to add phosphorus to my homemade compost. If there's one thing I've learned about successful gardening, it's amend amend amend. Animal manures are some of the best organic amendments. Adding one more type to the mix would help to insure a good nutrient ratio.
Okay then, bats it is! But what kind of housing would be best? And where should I locate it? What can I do to insure the best possibility of attracting a colony of these beautiful beneficial little buggers (er... bug eaters)?
After much research, the site I found most beneficial was Bat Conservation International. They have a lot of information about bats including an awesome Intro to Bats section, an interactive map of bat viewing sites, instructions on how to install bat houses, etc. And the Species Profiles pages are a great starting point for researching individual species. The database is search-able by state which really helps narrow down the list of bats that you might see around your neck of the woods. I also found out that they have a certification program for bat house manufacturers. Bingo! Links in their list of certified vendors has had me surfing all afternoon.
Now I need to decide which way to proceed. Should I build a house using one of the plans supplied on their website? Or should I purchase one from a certified vendor? Decisions decisions decisions. Right now I'm leaning towards one they sell at their batgoods.com shop, although I would buy it directly from the manufacturer as it's a little cheaper that way. This Bat Can from Bat Conservation and Management appears to be a good long term low maintenance solution.
"Designed for applications where routine maintenance may be unwanted, infrequent, dangerous, or difficult. These bat houses are built from the ground up to never rust, separate, or de-laminate, and possibly never need to be repainted."
Although it's heavy duty plastic on the outside, the interior baffles are made of yellow pine plywood. Their placement inside is designed to allow the bats to move around the circumference of the house as well as within and above the baffles. This helps them find the perfect micro-climate inside for their ultimate comfort. After all, isn't that what it's all about?
Decisions... decisions... Since this is going to be my Christmas present to myself, I want to make sure I make the best decision.
Do you have a bat house? If so, what style do you have? Do you like it? More importantly, do the bats like it (have any moved in)? How easy is it to maintain? Do you collect Guano from beneath your bat house? Pros / Cons? I'm very interested to hear about the successes and failures of others in order to help make an informed decision about which direction I should go from here.
From April through mid-October, visitors watch the nightly spectacle of several hundred thousand Brazilian free-tail bats exiting Carlsbad Cavern in search of food.
This video is several years old, but they no longer allow filming so it's the best I could find on YouTube. I could do without the cheesy music. But it does provide a pretty good feel for the experience. If you ever get a chance to visit Carlsbad Caverns, I strongly suggest you go! It's an amazing adventure both inside and outside.