Would you want this guy living in your backyard?

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, December 22, 2013 8:28 PM

I sure would.  In fact, I'd like it if he decided to move in with 150 or so of his brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Why?  Big Brown Bats are among America's most beneficial animals according to Bat Conservation International
"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.  

  1. Little Brown Myotis - Myotis lucifugus
  2. Long-Eared Myotis - Myotis evotis
  3. Big Brown Bat - Eptesicus fuscus
  4. Brazilian (Mexican) Free-Tailed Bat -Tadarida brasiliensis
  5. Yuma Myotis - Myotis yumanensis
  6. Fringed Myotis / Fringed Tailed Bat - Myotis thysanodes
  7. Long-Legged Myotis - Myotis volans
  8. California Myotis - Myotis californicus
  9. Silver-Haired Bat -Lasionycteris noctivagans
  10. Greater Bonneted Bat / Western Mastiff Bat -Eumops perotis
  11. Western Red Bat -Lasiurus blossevillii
  12. Hoary Bat - Lasiurus cinereus 
  13. Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat / Townsend's Long-Eared Bat - Corynorhinus townsendii
  14. Pallid Bat - Antrozous pallidus
  15. 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?

Or do I just go for a more traditional wooden structure like the one pictured below?  This style would be cheaper, but there is also more maintenance, cleaning, caulking, and painting required.  So in the long run it would be a lot more work.

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.

TRIVIA - I still remember my first encounter with bats.  It was at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.  They have a beautiful amphitheatre built at the cave entrance.  Every evening they have an educational ranger program that normally starts just before the bats begin to emerge at dusk.  As the talk continues, a few bats start exiting the cave entrance.  And then a few more emerge and the frequency increases.  Before you know it they are swarming out of the cave by the thousands!  With a population that fluctuates seasonally between 400,000 and 800,000 Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats, the exodus can last up the three hours.  I was a very young girl the first time I saw this spectacular show and I've been back to view it several times since.

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.

1 Response to "Would you want this guy living in your backyard?"

Gene Anderson Says:

We regularly see bats here in Oakland at dusk during the summer months. We've considered putting up a bat house, but that distraction thing...ooo, shiny!