From the Field

Finding a Home for Evicted Bats

October 24, 2016

A Mexican Free-Tailed bat. Photo © Karine Aigner

I pull over to the side of the road next to an old costume shop. It is pitch black and hardly any cars are out near the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve in Utah. Most people have gone to bed by now, but me — I’m looking for bats.

Yes: bats in a costume shop. I am not making this up.

I am investigating complaints about a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats nesting in the old building. Soon, complaints will yield to action, evicting these bats from their temporary home, and the Great Salt Lake will have a cloud of homeless bats looking for another suitable place to roost; perhaps in someone’s attic or perhaps in another local business — or, with any luck, next season they will find refuge in our experimental bat barn built just for them.

I peek inside the windows of the costume shop to try to catch a glimpse of these night-time creatures, but see nothing but what is left behind from last year’s Halloween decorations and a reflection of the waning crescent moon. The bats, my colleagues assure me, are probably feeding at the preserve.

Planet of the Bugs

Eighteen species of bats are known to reside in Utah, the most common of which are the Mexican free-tail and big brown bat. Yet, it is rare to find a better place to snack on insects than the Great Salt Lake. On nights like this, you can hear the buzz of millions of tiny insects among the ponds and grasses, and when you shine your flashlight to guide your way, you see them dive into the light and sometimes, unfortunately, into your mouth.

Flying bat. Photo © Robert and Linda Mitchell
Flying bat. Photo © Robert and Linda Mitchell

“Every night during the summer, I would come out and see bats flying around my house,” says Assistant Preserve Manager, Mike Kolendrianos, who lives just half a mile from the preserve. “I know that they’re going after insects and that just helps me out. We need them to stick around.”

And Mike is right. In Utah and beyond, bats play an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem by keeping insect populations in check. Every hour, bats are capable of consuming more than a thousand insects, including disease-carrying mosquitoes and agricultural pests. Bat guano, too, makes for an excellent fertilizer, promoting root growth and healthy soil.

A little big brown bat is held and observed by a DWR biologist at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Andrea Nelson)
A little big brown bat is held and observed by a DWR biologist at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Andrea Nelson)

However, it is still wise to ensure a reasonable distance between humans and bat populations. Residents and city officials share valid concerns about the health risks associated with exposure to bats and their droppings, including rabies and histoplasmosis. This balance makes finding suitable homes for these migrating bats even more important if we are to coexist with such complicated species.

“They provide a great service to us,” continues Kolendrianos. “That’s one thing that gets overlooked with bats. If it wasn’t for these creatures, the planet would be overrun with insects. I think that’s why science fiction authors write about bugs. It would be like an old horror movie.”

I nod in agreement, picking the wings of an insect out from between my teeth.

Building a New Home for Utah Bats

Research shows that Utah bat populations are declining, largely due to the growing threat of natural habitat loss. Though many people try to remedy the problem by constructing bat houses, they often fail to lure in bats because they are too small. As a result, these misunderstood creatures still find themselves searching for a new home.

Closeup of Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Vicki Ritter)
Closeup of Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Vicki Ritter)

But Architectural Nexus, an architecture design firm based in Salt Lake City, wants to try something new.

Utilizing best known practices and science, Architectural Nexus designers are donating their time and expertise to the Conservancy, competing for the chance to create a customized bat barn with enough space to comfortably hold large bat colonies at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve.

This concept will be the first of its kind in Utah, with ample open fly space, baffles from which to hang, and a 24-foot drop — a distance necessary for species like the Mexican free-tail bat who need to launch themselves from high spaces in order to gain enough momentum to fly.

“We’re excited to be part of this environmental experiment,” says Sara Greenhalgh of Architectural Nexus. “Not only is this an innovative idea, it could also set a new standard for creating safe habitat for bats to thrive.”

Who’s Afraid of the Big Brown Bat?

While the construction of a bat barn may provide new habitat for bats at the preserve, it won’t make people any less afraid of them. Although bats may bring to mind vampires or contagious disease for many people, to my colleagues and I, they’re a welcome sight.

Big brown bat in flight. Photo © Angell Williams / Flickr through a Creative Commons license
Big brown bat in flight. Photo © Angell Williams / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

As our team walks the preserve, we don’t see any bats. It’s too late in the year for that. But maybe next year, the new bat barn will provide a much needed home for these little helpers and we’ll be able to look at the bright, burning stars without swatting moths and mosquitoes from our eyelashes.

Who’s afraid of the big brown bat? Not me.

Bugs on the other hand…

Join the Discussion

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54 comments

  1. I have a ten acres in northeast Arkansas full of woods that can house bats. I’ve noticed a sharp drop in numbers last 15 years. I also have 80+ acres in southeast Missouri that can house bats…they are sure needed for the mosquitoes. Both of these properties are in conservation and NEVER sprayed and have plenty of wooded shelter . I would be pleased to help

  2. I would love to have bats in my area. Though I don’t know that the spraying by farmers of the alfalfa fields in late spring would be a problem. My problem is I can’t hammer a nail straight, and building something that would be conducive to having bats would be a problem. I remember watching bats when I lived in Monument Valley.

  3. Merlin Tuttle, former President of Bat Conservation International, used carefully chosen photographs to dramatically increase the acceptance, appreciation, and love of bats. One way he did this was by never using photos of bats that made them look scary or menacing unlike the photo of the Big Brown Bat above. I suggest you follow his lead in choosing photos of bats for your articles in the future.
    Thanks, Paul Robertson – former ED for BCI once upon a time long ago and retired TNC project director in Colorado sort of guy

  4. I live in the St Johns neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Our city has placed many bat homes in the trees by the Willamette River next to the Water Pollution Control lab. We see bats flying in the early evening and mornings while sitting on our front porch. I don’t know what kind they are, but they’re sweet!

  5. Please provide links to a web site or article which describes how to build and place a substitute bat home. I would like to transplant a colony of bats that resides in my home to a safe place outside of my home.

    1. We appreciate your interest in trying to find a safe environment for bats outside of your home! The project in the article is specific to the nine bat species found near the Great Salt Lake, so the bat barn is being designed with their needs in mind. We would recommend doing some research on what bat species can be found in your area and their specific habitat needs. For example, we found that Mexican free-tailed bats prefer larger, open areas over smaller bat boxes in our area. For more information on constructing bat houses, we recommend checking out this website: http://www.batcon.org/resources/getting-involved/bat-houses.

  6. Bats are BEAUTIFUL ! I love them !! I used to have quite a few…BUT not any more ! I don’t know what happened to them.
    Diana Link
    (Connecticut)

  7. This is a wonderful idea and I really hope it works. With their habitat loss and white nose disease, I keep reading how their numbers are dwindling. We can’t let this happen….they are too vital for the ecosystem.
    Now you need to really expand this idea all over the country. Just like with bees….without them we wouldn’t have food. Use of harmful insecticides has to be stopped. Humans need to wake up to what we are doing to all animals on this planet and start treating all of them with the respect they deserve. Our planet would be worthless without them.

  8. I have a bat house that sparrows invaded. I need to replace it, what bat house do your recommend?

    1. Thank you for trying to find a safe environment for bats outside of your home! The project in the article is specific to the 9 bat species found near the Great Salt Lake, so the bat barn is being designed with their needs in mind. We would recommend doing some research on what bat species can be found in your area and their specific habitat needs. For example, we found that Mexican free-tailed bats prefer larger, open areas over smaller bat boxes in our area. For more information on constructing bat houses, we recommend checking out this website: http://www.batcon.org/resources/getting-involved/bat-houses.

    1. The best bat houses will be entirely dependent on where you live and what bat species frequent that particular region. We would recommend doing some research on what bat species can be found in your area and their specific habitat needs. For example, we found that Mexican free-tailed bats prefer larger, open areas over smaller bat boxes in our area. For more information on constructing bat houses, we recommend checking out this website: http://www.batcon.org/resources/getting-involved/bat-houses.

  9. I just love bats and the balance they keep. I live in PA and I always had bats living around me , now there are none. Makes me so sad. I love what you are doing…let’s get this Brown Bat a home and keep him safe. Thank you. Sincerely, Sue

  10. I thought I would find detailed construction plans included in the article.

    1. Stay tuned. The final design is going to make its debut later this month with plans to construct the bat barn in early spring. The Utah chapter will be sharing updates on the construction plans in the coming months.

      1. Have the plans been revealed? Do you have a link or any resources to share, regarding the design or progress? Kind Regards, Jakub

  11. The inside, or heart, of a bat consists of many, many, many bugs. Yeah, bats and bugs!

  12. I have two of the smaller bat boxes on my home that have been occupied in the spring and summer for over twenty years. They do a great job of keeping the bug population down. The general public’s ignorance about bats is monumental! The benefit of bats to everyone should be taught in schools and at least occasionally, disseminated through the media without the snarky comments. I hope to see some commercial distribution of bat barns through stores like Wild Bird in the near future. I also hope that there is a concerted effort on finding the solution to the white nose syndrome. Is there any reputable organization needing donations?

  13. Humans need to overcome their primitive brain fears and instincts that served them well prior to civilization and use the wondrous brain they are given by God to adjust their attitudes and reactions to the nature that sustains the earth. We do so much harm when we don’t do this. We shoot ourselves in the foot. It will ultimately be our species undoing. I pray we will use our brains to save ourselves by saving the creatures and systems we have been destroying. I applaud the assistance such projects give the natural world that has worked for millions of years.

  14. A sheltering place for these deserving mammals is welcome news. Bats often get bad reps. Thanks to
    Architectural Nexus!

  15. We have had two bat houses for years on the east of our house. They are occupied during the better weather, but not now. We are quite happy to have them around. Their dropping do end up on the gas meter below, but I doubt any human reader recognizes what they are! Useful friends.

  16. I am so relieved to learn that people are stepping up to the plate to help the declining number of bats, which are so important to us.

  17. We have a family of 6 Big Brown bats at the top of a tall covered space above a porch at our house. Very cute as they huddle together up in the corner. Making a mess though on the wall and porch, so looking to build a bat box that they can move in to.

  18. So good. Are these bats affected by the virus that seems to be plaguing so many bat species.

    1. No, fortunately Utah bats are not yet affected by white-nose syndrome.

  19. For 30 years at my Indiana farm I enjoyed watching bats feeding in the woods around my house. I could sit on my back deck at dusk and see a lot of them. I now live in a very rural area in Tennessee but rarely see a bat and I miss them. Is this just another piece of nature being lost here (there are markedly fewer frogs and toads) or are the bats just more secretive? I sometimes wonder how the little brown bats are doing in Indiana.

  20. I have a home and lot in Florida and would be interested in a bat habitat. Need it be large for a sizable colony, or do smaller abodes work?? Any info would be helpful.

  21. I just wish I would see a bat again in Kansas; I returned back here 20 years ago and have hardly seen a bat since then. Used to see them growing up but no longer. What can we do to help them out?

    1. Thank you for your comment! We are always thrilled when people like you are interested in helping in our conservation mission. One thing you can do is provide suitable, safe roosting space by constructing a bat house that meets the needs of specific bat species in your area. And of course, one of the best things we can all do is share our knowledge about all of the great ecological services they provide and try to change the perceptions of bats to show how important they are to humans.

  22. I’m dedicated to helping these mammals – the only ones that fly – here in my home area – NE PA. We have the Little Brown and the Big Brown bats. My partner and I have installed several bat houses, with minimal success. But we are learning – and our plans include building a large, free-standing maternity bat house for 2017. I often tell people that bat mothers nurse their young, the same way human mothers do. This gives a lot of ‘bat-haters’ a new perspective on bats. Of course, having 1000 insects disappear each hour is happy news as well. Keep up your important work!

  23. Anything that helps the bats regardless of size or species helps the human population even more. Whats not to like?? My family homeplace is far enough out of town and surrounded by trees. We sit out by our pool just before dark to see them come out to drink and hunt. We love watching them.

  24. We live in downstate New York, near the banks of the Hackensack River, and we have a resident bat. It sleeps in a joint under the roof of our porch, arriving probably very early in the morning and departing soon after we get up. It took us awhile to figure out what was leaving those droppings on our porch, but one day I glimpsed our nocturnal visitor hanging (out) in his spot overhead. I sweep the guano off the porch and into a garden bed. Thanks, bat! He departed for southerly climes sometime in September. Couldn’t tell what kind of bat it was.

  25. We have a small colony who live in the attic and no bugs.We would like it if they moved into a bat house !We do not know what size or where to place one?We all live in N.Y. Thank you all for helping these magnificent creatures!

  26. Build one or more bat-houses on your property… the eaves or gables of your house will suffice as a locale to build a simple and effective bat house which bats will take up residence and begin cleansing the skies of insects… especially Mosquitos! Thousands of those biting bugs your bat house population will consume per night!

  27. Hey…….can you send some to Hawaii, we have lots of bugs and fruit,they’d be very happy!

  28. I love this idea, I hope it works out well! I, myself love bats and miss seeing more of them around!

  29. So cool!!! A giant bat house. I’m a big fan of bats. They consume mosquitos who like to consume me. Plus, they’re kinda cute. The bats, not the mosquitos. lol More bats, fewer mosquitos. Go Bats!!

  30. This is the best news ever!!!!! I hope that the same thing would happen everywhere else in this country and beyond. They do so much for us and because of old tales, a lot of people are afraid of them. Hopefully people will learn from them.

  31. great !, i love bats , never seen one up close sorry to say , but seen flying around but,alas not lately ,, please inspire folks in CT, to build houses,, we would love them here especially at ASH CREEK ,, ST MARY’s by the sea,, jean

  32. What a great idea! I look forward to seeing photos of the new bat barn and if there are any bat occupants. Would the structure be located in an area where people can’t disturb the bats?

  33. I know what you are doing is fantastic but I wish all of the National Parkd and Forests were doing the same thing and it would be wonderful if they were all over the place.

  34. I find it inspiring that an architectural firm wants to build houses for bats, our unsung aerial heroes. Bats might be frightening to many, but they really are great at catching insects. This was a really interesting story. Thanks for writing this article!

  35. There’s a road construction project near me on hold due to bats. Perhaps TNC can help..Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

  36. This is good news. I wish them success. I learned more about the needs of bats from this article. Thank-you.

  37. This is a great concept to help bats. With the advent of WNS, it is very sad that huge bat populations have been disappearing. I say, “Go bats! I’m rooting for you!”

  38. I LOVE BATS THEY ARE. SO CUTE. AND FACIINATING. MY MOTHER FOUND ONE IN HER BEDROOM YEARS. AGO. SHR CALLED THE FIRE DEPT. BEFORE THEY COME . I TOD HER THE Y WILL SCARE THE HELL OUT IF THE POOR LITTLE THING. SO I GOT A BOX REAL QUICK. PUT A PASTIC BAG OVER MY HEAD SO IT WOULDNT GET CAUGHT IN MY HAIR. HAHAHA. AND I WENT INTO BEDROOM AND CLOSED. THE DOOR I TRUED TI CATCH IT TOO PUT IT OUT ON FIRE EXSCAPE IN BOX. BEFORE FIRE DEPT GOT THERE. POOR LITTLE THING WAS TERRIFIED IF ME SCREAMING AND FLYING AROUND .I TALKED SIFT TO IT NOT TO SCARE IT. IT WAS LITTLE AND SO CUTE. FINNALY I GOT IT IN THE BOX WISHED THE LITTLE GUY IR GIRL GOOD LUCK. AND PUT THE BOX ON FIRE EXSCAPE.GOD BLESS!!!