A maternal colony of Big Brown bats roosts in the louvers of my attic each spring and summer to have and raise their babies. This year the colony was larger (30+ bats) and I posted this video in April 2012:
I wrote the following in Spring 2011:
"I first got involved in "bat rescue" in June 2005 when I found an unfortunate baby that had fallen from the louvers. I didn't really know much about bats at that time and had some of the same "fear" or trepidation about them that most people do. But since I was presented with a tiny little baby that would surely die if I didn't try to help, I got involved and haven't looked back.
Since 2005 I've learned quite a bit about these amazing creatures and I've also come to realize their importance to our environment. With White Nose Syndrome literally wiping out bats by the millions, each little colony--and each little individual within a colony--is vitally important.
In trying to care for and protect the bats who live in my louvers, I've relied heavily on the knowledge, assistance and support of a local wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in bats. I've also taken a couple of classes on wildlife care and management through The Wildlife Center of Virginia. Perhaps someday I'll pursue my wildlife rehabilitator permit, but for now I'm glad that I can help by being a rescuer and transporter."
During the Spring of 2011, I found five fallen babies, which was a record. In 2012 that record was totally shattered before the end of May.... Here are their stories.
I heard and saw the first baby hanging onto the attic louvers on May 16, 2012. This was nearly a week earlier than the first fallen baby in the Spring of 2011. I don't have a ladder that reaches all the way to the louvers, so there was nothing I could do....
I was at work when it fell later that afternoon, but just by chance my son, his girlfriend and my significant other were all at the house and they were able to take care of it until I got home.
Baby #1 was a tiny newborn. We gave it Pedialyte (the red stuff on the cloth) and warm goat's milk that I had in the freezer from 2011. Since I wasn't READY for baby bats yet, I wasn't sure what to do with it. I put its container on the top shelf of the closet in my bedroom and it peeped all night long! I took it to the wildlife rehabilitator on May 17th after recording this video of its chirping:
Baby #2, which was larger and a bit older than #1, was found after a heavy downpour on the evening of May 22nd. After hydrating it, I went outside to put it on the nylon mesh on the side of my house for a possible retrieval by its mom--and discovered Baby #3. When I went back out to check on them a couple of hours later, Baby #2 was gone (I hope with its mother) and I brought #3 inside.
Usually I just keep the babies for a day or two, trying to give their moms a chance to retrieve them. When I called the rehabber to let her know I'd found another one, she said she was going out of town for a couple of days and asked if I had enough goat's milk. I did, so I agreed to keep #3 until she got back or until its mom picked it up--whichever came first. Keeping one little bat for a couple of days? No problem, right? Little did I know how incredibly crazy things were going to get....
I found Baby #4 on May 23rd. It was larger and older than #3 and it was starting to get some fuzzy brown fur on its body. Caring for two babies was a bit more time-consuming than caring for one, but it was active and seemed healthy, so I figured I'd put both of them on the mesh that evening.
I went outside around 7:00 pm to do a "bat check" before it was dark. No more babies had fallen, but I saw something strange at the edge of my roof. I had my camera with me and I used it to zoom in to see what it was--and it was a SNAKE!! As I watched in horror, it started moving towards the louvers!
The only thing I could think to do was to put the power wash nozzle on the hose and try to blast it off the roof, but I knew I had to be careful not to spray water into the louvers. Each time I hit the snake with the water, it would back up for a second, but then it would continue to make its way towards the bats.
Then I saw the most amazing thing: at least 10 mother bats flew out of the louvers with their babies clinging to their chests. I wish I could have photographed this but I was still trying to stop the snake. Finally, nearly in tears with frustration, I gave up. I could hear peeping coming from the louvers as the snake moved closer, but I was helpless to stop what was going to happen. I came inside to feed the two that were safe in their container in my basement....
Between the snake crawling into the louvers and some of the mothers flying out with their babies, I figured it was the end of the colony; #3 and #4 would have no chance to be reunited with their mothers. I understand the "circle of life," and that nature can (from our point of view) sometimes seem cruel, but in addition to all of the man-made and environmental crises that bats are facing, it just seemed so unfair to have this particular colony threatened by a natural predator, which was probably a young black snake.
An hour or so later (just before dark) I walked outside and the snake was back up on the roof, presumably digesting its dinner. I didn't hear any peeping from the louvers. When I saw a few bats flying around just after dark I was surprised. I put #3 and #4 on the mesh just in case their moms had come back to look for them. They were not retrieved and I brought them inside for another night.
Just before 6:00 pm on May 25th, I found #5. It was on the ground--quite small and quite dead. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I suspect it had died in the louvers and was simply booted out. Later that evening I watched 32 bats fly out of the louvers and I realized that the colony had returned! I put #3 and #4 on the mesh again and hoped for the best.
While we were sitting on the porch listening to the peeping of the two babies on the mesh, I heard a faint peep coming from a different location. To my utter amazement, there was a bat hanging on the south side of the porch, high on the screen! There was no way to get it from the outside (too high and nowhere to rest a ladder) so we had to cut the screen and get it from the inside. The louvers are on the west side of the house so I have no idea how it wound up on the south side unless it was a "fledgling" (almost ready to fly) that had flown a short distance and then climbed up the porch. When I got a good look at it, I realized that it was also a fairly large baby. We put it on the mesh with #3 and #4. All were still there a few hours later, so they were brought back in the house. The next afternoon (May 26th) I was able to get a couple of video clips which I posted on YouTube:
#7 was found the morning of May 27th. It was even larger than #4 and #6 and "self-actualized": old enough to realize that it was a bat that was having an unwelcomed experience with a human.... Fully furred (and teethed) and probably a fledgling, it still needed a safe place to stay until evening. I brought it inside and carefully made it into a "bat burrito," swaddling it so that it couldn't move. Once I had it restrained, it eagerly took the water and milk that I offered it.
As #3, #4 and #6 hadn't been retrieved by their moms after multiple chances, I decided not to put them on the mesh and just took out #7. When I went out to check on it a while later, I found #8 (smaller) on the side of the house! I put it on the mesh with #7. When I went out on the porch a while later, I heard peeping on the south side of the house again and discovered #9, which I ALSO put on the mesh with the other two! When I checked around midnight, #8 was gone, possibly picked up by its mom. I decided to leave the other two out for the night, and in the morning there was only one on the mesh, that I *think* was #9.
I've mentioned the "mesh" several times, so here's what that's about: Bats need to swoop downward in order to become airborne, so I have several feet of nylon mesh hanging from a dowel rod like a curtain and then attached to the side of my house. I can use a modified broom handle to reach up to lower the mesh, which is as high as I can feasibly put it on my house. It offers a place for mother bats to land to pick up their babies as well as enough height for a young "fledgling" bat to launch itself. Following the suggestion of the wildlife rehabilitator, I added a little fabric flap at the top of the mesh to give the babies a place to crawl under and hide and to also minimize the possibility of one climbing up and falling off.
So on the morning of May 28th I found myself with four bats: #3, #4, #6 and #9. To my absolute delight and relief, the rehabber was back in town and I was more than ready to take her these babies. I also offered to pick up the ones that she had managed to farm out while she was gone. I walked out the basement door with my box o' bats only to find not one, not two, not three, but FOUR MORE "fledgling" babies! Totally out of control....
Since they were possibly capable of flight, I put them in containers and left them at my house, put the other four in the car, picked up the other baby bats (in my Batmobile?) and drove to the rehabber's farm to deliver the lot of them. While I was there I picked up another container of goat's milk as well as one of the rehabber's bat containers to use with the quartet in my basement.
With all of them being approximately the same size and with no good way to tell them apart (were they new or was I re-finding the same babies?) the decision was made to start color-coding them by putting a tiny dot of paint on the top of each one's head. And so instead of going by number "names," we had Gray, Red, Yellow and White who were all put out on the mesh that night. (But for those of you who are still counting, the "colorful" bats brought my total to 13 babies....)
"Yellow" wasn't interested in climbing the mesh and instead it just wanted to fly. It kept pushing off, flapping frantically and falling to the ground. After picking it up and putting it back a few times, it fell again and started moving across the concrete foundation of my house.
Unfortunately, it crawled around the side of the house into some bushes and we couldn't get to it. When I checked later, I only saw "White" plus a new one (who became "Orange/14") and these were the only ones I brought inside. On the morning of May 29th I found yet another "fledgling" ("Green/15") and this one was added to the container....
As a side note, the babies are kept in a small plastic trashcan that has mesh sewn around the inside of it. A pair of pantyhose covers the top. The container is kept in a box to minimize drafts, and a heating pad is placed inside the box to help keep them warm.
As I watched these three active and relatively large bats moving around inside the container on the morning of May 29th, I realized that I was quickly moving out of my comfort zone.... While I have acquired enough skill since 2005 to feel confident--and safe--in providing temporary care for the very young ones, the older ones not only require a different type of diet, but they also act like any normal wild animal that finds itself in a "threatening" situation--and that concerned me. I just wasn't comfortable with the thought of trying to care for them until it was time to put them on the mesh that night, so I called the rehabber and said I'd like to bring them to her--and I did.
Fortunately, there were no fallen babies on the night of May 29th, but I DID get to witness what appeared to be "flight school." I could see some large bats and some small bats flying around the back yard, just between some nearby trees and the louvers. I can only hope that #7, "Yellow", "Red" and "Gray" ultimately managed to fly home....
The current plan for the remainder of "baby bat season" is this:
If I find a very young bat, I will care for it just as I have cared for other little babies over the last seven years, keeping it warm and hydrated during the day, giving the mom a night or two to retrieve it, and then taking it to the rehabber if it's not retrieved.
If I find a "fledgling" bat at night and I feel that I can safely capture it, I'll put it on the mesh to give it a height-advantage if it's trying to fly. (This is what we did with #16 and #17.)
If I find a "fledgling" bat in the morning and I feel that I can safely capture it, I'll either try to put it in a high, relatively safe location or take it to the rehabber who has a flight cage on her farm where it can gain strength and learn to fly in a safe environment.
It is hoped that all the ones that I've taken to her can be released here after they are flying well. If they can rejoin their colony, that would be a very good thing.
As I say on each of the "bat pages" on my website, I was caring for these Big Brown bat babies with the support of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. As a safety-conscious rescuer and temporary caregiver, I can help keep a young or injured wild animal warm and hydrated, but turning it over to a wildlife specialist gives it the best possible chance of surviving and someday returning to its natural habitat, where it belongs.
Big Brown bats are good mothers. They usually give birth to just one (sometimes two) babies in the spring and they can live to be nearly 20 years old in the wild. By contrast, most mammals of similar size give birth to multiple babies and can have multiple litters each year. Mice, for example, can have 40-60 babies in a year and have a life expectancy of about one year.
Bats are NOT rodents. They belong to the order Chiroptera, a name of Greek origin meaning "hand-wing," and they are more closely related to primates than they are to rodents. They're the only true flying mammal. While it's possible for Big Brown bats to become airborne from the ground, they usually need to swoop down from a height of at least a few feet in order to fly. Once in the air, however, they are remarkably agile and they can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
Most species of bats navigate by means of echolocation, as do whales and dolphins. The biosonar they use for hunting is in a frequency range that humans cannot hear. In addition to the loud peeping sound that babies make, adults communicate with their young and with each other in a range that is audible to human ears. I've described the adults' communication vocalizations as a raspy "electronic" sound and some nights the chatter of the adults and babies in the louvers is quite loud!
While Big Brown bats usually don't carry their babies with them when they're foraging for food (and a nursing mother needs to eat her body weight in insects each night) they can and often do retrieve them if they drop from the roost.
Unfortunately, hawks and snakes prey on bats, but their most common predator is another nocturnal hunter, the owl.
There is so much misinformation, superstition and fear about bats. One long-standing myth is that "all bats" are rabid. Not true! Less than one-half of one percent of bats contract rabies, but that said, it is important to remember that any frightened or injured wild animal can bite! For that reason, no bat should be handled with bare hands. Wildlife rehabilitators who plan to work with rabies vector species must receive a series of pre-exposure rabies vaccinations before they can be licensed.
I think that our cultural view of bats has been largely shaped by frightening images of "Dracula" and Halloween, and by what people think they know about vampire bats. By contrast, in China bats are seen as symbols of happiness, longevity and good luck!
The unfortunate bat in a house--scared witless and usually being chased by a frantic human armed with a tennis racket or broom--is certainly going to look and sound as fierce as it possibly can. Additionally, most pictures of bats show them in a defensive posture, and that has only served to perpetuate the very negative and scary image that people have of them.
Many species of bats are in danger of extinction due to White Nose Syndrome, loss of habitat, and accidental or intentional eradication and extermination due to human fear and ignorance. Bats are such delicate creatures--so sensitively and superbly designed for the natural world. One can hope that these Big Brown bat babies are not the "bellwether" indicators of the effects of electromagnetic frequencies, radioactive contamination and heavy-metal pollutants that are wreaking havoc on our planet....
For more information about these highly intelligent, vitally important and gentle creatures, please follow the links below.