Bat Watching Etiquette

Captive Bats

When visiting a site that has a program with a captive bat, please do not approach the bat, or allow your children to approach the bat, unless the docent/presenter says you may.

Wild Bats

If visiting a site that allows you to watch wild bats emerge from their roost, please keep in mind the following guidelines:

• Realize that a bat emergence is not a predictable event. No one can be sure when the bats will come out, or if they will come out at all. Bad weather and other factors often cause bats to change their normal behaviors.
• Arrive early, at least 30 minutes before the expected time of the bat emergence.
• Be as quiet as possible as long as you are near the roost. If bats sense any disturbances in their normal environment, the emergence may be delayed or otherwise altered.
• Discuss interesting facts about bats with your children before the event to enrich the experience for them. Make sure they understand that they will need to be calm, quiet, and patient.
• Stand away from the bat roost, and avoid the bats' direct flight path.
• Do not shine a flashlight or cause other distractions. If even a few bats are distracted, other bats in the colony will sense it and may choose not to come out.
• Do not alter or interfere with your surroundings in any way. This is the bats' habitat. Stay on designated trails.
• Do not touch a wild bat. Bats will bite in self-defense. If you find a bat on the ground, be aware that it is more likely than others to be sick.

Bat Watching Notes

Safety While Watching Bats

There is no reason to fear a bat emergence. Bats can fly all around you without ever making contact, thanks to their good eyesight (bats are NOT blind) and their superior echolocation (sonar) navigational system. Always remember, however, that no one should ever touch a downed bat. If you are able to pick it up, the bat is likely to be sick and therefore dangerous. Like any wild animal, bats will bite in self-defense. However, they pose little threat to people who do not handle them.

Telling A Bat From A Bird

There are a few general characteristics that differentiate bird flight from bat flight. First, birds usually glide between flaps, with their wings drawn in close to their bodies. Bats rarely do this; they must have their wings completely extended during flight, except when they are catching insects. Second, birds tend to propel themselves more smoothly. Bats generally have erratic and jerky flight patterns because they are constantly in pursuit of insects. Third, most birds are coming home around dusk when bats are heading out for a night of foraging. Don't be fooled, however, by nighthawks, which fly about catching insects at night in the same jerky manner as bats. Nighthawks have white stripes on their wings and are typically much larger than the small bats found in North America.

Other Wildlife At Bat Emergences

Hawks, owls, and snakes are just some of the animals that prey on bats, and these predators know that one of the best times to find a good meal is when bats emerge en masse from a roost. If you are watching an evening bat emergence, be sure to look for hungry predators nearby. Birds of prey will circle in the sky then swoop down to grab a bat, while snakes often extend their heads into the entrance of a cave and pick a bat out of the air as it flies by.

Confirming A Bat Sighting

A bat detector is by far the most reliable way to tell if there are bats flying in the vicinity. Bat detectors read bats' echolocation calls as they navigate and search for food throughout the night. The bat detector microphone is sensitive to sounds beyond the range of human hearing. Circuitry within the detector converts the input into signals audible to humans and broadcasts it through a small speaker.

Some of the best places to look for bats are in the light under street lamps and around open bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes, and streams, where bats are sure to find insects.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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