Putting the Bats Back in Our Belfries | Seventh Generation
Skip to Content
  • Pin It

Putting the Bats Back in Our Belfries

Author: the Inkslinger

Spring may not be as far off as the calendar suggests. It's been persistently unwinterlike here in Vermont, and given that we're past the season's nadir, the rituals of the warmer months could be closer than we think. Here's one we should all add to our vernal to-do lists: bring the bats back to our belfries.

You've probably heard by now that bats are in serious trouble, specifically the little brown bat. The culprit is white nose syndrome (WNS), a fungus that doesn't kill outright but instead so successfully rouses bats from hibernation that they fly out of their caves into a foodless winter where they die of starvation, cold, or both.

The result has been a "batastrophe." According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of last winter, more than 5.7 million bats have been killed by WNS, which scientists believe is an invasive species from Europe. With the fungus now spreading from the Northeast to the Great Lakes and as far west as Missouri, the little brown bat, once the most common bat species in many regions, is fluttering on the edge of extinction.

In many places, the loss of brown bats means no more bats at all and huge potential impacts. Scientists estimate that the bats lost to WNS would have eaten nearly 4,000 tons of insects every year, and that translates to big effects on agriculture, not to mention how buggy it gets on a summer night.

But there is some good news. A handful of unaffected brown bat colonies have been discovered. No one knows why they're healthy -- genetic, geographic, or behavioral reasons could be responsible -- but whatever the reason, the surviving colonies are giving bat lovers (that should be everyone!) hope that bats can make a comeback.

In the meantime, we can all help. According to experts, the single biggest step we can take is to put up bat houses around our homes. These simple shelters give bats a safe place to bear and raise their young, and erecting them in early spring means they'll be ready when bats begin looking for their summer home.

Bat houses are easy to build or buy, and they install with nearly zero elbow grease. Following a few basic rules about size, design, location, and color will greatly increase the odds that bats will move into the houses you provide. Bat Conservation International offers pre-built houses, plans, tips, and more in a great online guide that has all you need to know.

Don't let the old wives' tales fool you. Bats are harmless friends to humanity who have been helping us in some very big ways for a very long time. This spring, put up some bat houses and return the favor.

photo: furryscaly


mschiff6 picture
We have had 3 bats enter our home within the last five years. We live in the city so I always felt it was unusual. When capturing and releasing a bat, I have heard that a bat needs to be in a free fall in order to fly. It was true in all 3 of my captures. They just floundered around on the ground until I took them up on a step ladder and flung them up into the air. Worked like magic. There are so many people that just want to kill a poor bat that happens to find itself in their homes. I believe it's because people fear bats, out of ignorance, and humans tend to kill what they fear. I admit I was fearful at first, but I could never bring myself to kill any animal, preferring to rescue instead. Bats are so vital to our envirnoment and I truly believe that God intended man to be their caretakers, not their executioners. Just a thought.
esfgirl picture
Hoping to build a bat house in the very near future for my backyard. Thanks for the info and tips on attracting bats. I once had a little brown bat fly at me and land on my leg. It clung, shaking, to my jeans, while I picked it up with my sweater and carried it to a nearby bat house. Probably sick, I hope it made it! Bats are fascinating creatures, it's too bad they don't get much attention. Love watching them fly overhead at dusk.
betonylauren picture
The link "a great online guide" in the second paragraph from the bottom of the article has a pdf about attracting bats.
m0delm0m picture
I put up my bat house a couple of years ago and still waiting for some to move in. Any suggestions for attracting bats?
Chiroptera Mama picture
Chiroptera Mama
Actually, mtmckina, it is very true. Bats use echolocation mostly to hunt - not for general flying. We raise orphaned and injured bats and when they are learning to fly, they often run into the walls. It has been documented that wind turbines kill thousands of bats and birds (including birds of prey) as do radio and cell tower guy wires, and skyscrapers.
mtmckina picture
dorothyp--Where are you getting that information?? Bats use ecolocation to fly and I highly doubt they are going to fly anywhere near a wind turbine. More likely they are dying from the tons of pesticides factory farmers use. Unless you are talking about the small family farmers, the big ones get all kinds of subsidies so I'm sure they're not going broke anytime soon (that's why we have Ethanol in our gas)
dorothyp picture
It might be helpful to also mention the thousands of bats killed each year by the increasing numbers of wind turbines and the costs to the farmers - and the rest of us - of losing these insect eating friends of our environment.