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Bat Mythbusters

Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
Bats, the Benefit of 
National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Habitat Program 
Bird Identification Tips 

From childhood, many of us are taught to fear bats, but it turns out that bats are important for our environment and in fact a favorite food of bats is the bane of most human summers: the mosquito! A single bat can eat as many as 1,200 mosquitoes in a single hour! Bats also eat other insects that destroy crops, and they even play a part in pollination in some parts of the country.

Attracting bats to your space
Still not convinced bats are great to have around? One way to keep bats out of your way, yet still glean their benefits, is to provide a house made especially for them. In general, bat houses are attractive and unobtrusive and have features that make bats want to come home to roost. Take a look at the Organization for Bat Conservation's Bat Houses on the right, and additional bat houses for more options.

Mount your bat house correctly so there's a better chance it will be occupied. In general, bat houses should be:

  • Attached at least 15 feet high on the side of your house, on an outbuilding, on the garage, or on a tall pole. You may be tempted to place a bat house on a tall tree, but studies have shown that a bat house placed on a tall tree is less likely to be occupied.
  • Free from obstructions with at least 20 feet of open space to allow bats to pinpoint the house and easily fly in and out.
  • Warm. Bats like warmth, so make sure your bat house is placed where it will absorb warmth. The best solution is to make sure the front of the house is facing southeast to expose it to sunlight.

Outside environment

  • Northern states: keep in mind that bat houses need to receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. You may wish to paint the house black to absorb plenty of heat (use a waterbased, nontoxic, latex paint).
  • Southern states: place the unpainted bat house in direct sun.
  • Extreme southern states: paint the bat house white to reflect the heat.

Occupation of Houses

According to the OBC, approximately half of all bat houses are occupied within the first summer and about 80% are occupied within the first 2-3 years. Change the house's location if you do not have a colony by the end of the third year. You may also want to provide several bat houses so bats can choose where they live.

Bat Migration

Bats return from migration and awaken from hibernation as early as March in most of the U.S. and are abundant throughout the summer and into early fall. Attracting bats is a great, pesticide-free way to help the environment, perpetuate Nature's life cycle, and enjoy your pond or backyard with less annoying, biting mosquitoes.

Some facts from the Organization for Bat Conservation (OBC) and other sources:
Bats are not blind, but they use sound location (called echolocation) to find and catch prey.
Bats are not dirty.
Bats do not "suck" blood (North American bats do not even feed on blood).
Bats will not get caught in your hair. They are shy and want to avoid humans.
Bats will not interfere with feeding backyard birds.
Very few bats have rabies. In fact, some studies have shown that only 1.2 of 1 percent of bats test positive for this disease and skunks or foxes are much more likely to be rabid.
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