Big Brown Bat, Winter 2011

On February 1, 2011, one of my co-workers walked into my classroom carrying a brown paper bag. He said that the previous evening someone had found what they assumed to be a dead bat in the gym. It had been swept up and put in a trash can, but when he noticed that it was still alive, he put it in a bag and took it home. That morning he'd already taken it to the biology teacher, but since she knew that I had a special interest in bats, she referred him to me.

I'm getting rather used to dealing with the occasional baby bat at my house (a maternal colony roosts in the louvers of my attic and sometimes a baby falls out) but suddenly being presented with a very weak adult bat--at school--was a new experience....

As an art teacher, I tend to have a lot of random materials in my classroom, so I taped some nylon mesh (that I use for papermaking) inside a box, put on some gloves and gently took the bat out of the bag and put it into the box. I didn't know what was wrong with it--I rarely see bats during the winter months--but I figured (as a given) that it was probably dehydrated.

Using a clean paintbrush dipped in fresh water, I touched its mouth. At first it didn't respond, but then it started lapping at the water; slowly at first, and then with increasing enthusiasm. Within a few minutes it had recovered to the point that it apparently realized its situation and so it started yelling at me! Seeing a "normal" response out of this previously lethargic creature was a very good thing, and I felt it might have a chance.

Image is inverted; it was actually upside down.

I called Robin, the wildlife rehabilitator I've gotten to know over the years, and explained the situation. As soon as I could get away from school, I drove it to her house, where we made a plan.... She said that she would care for it until there were several warm days in the forecast and then I could come get it and release it back at the school.

So flash forward about six weeks. Temperatures were mild and I'd seen some insects flying around (food source), so we decided it was a good time to release it. The bat (a male) had gotten somewhat fat during his "vacation" at Robin's house (she said he had quickly figured out how to eat off a small plate), so we wondered if he would be able to fly. We made some backup plans in case the release failed, but both of us hoped for the best.

I picked him up from her house on the evening of March 17, 2011 (St. Patrick's Day) and transported him back to the school in a clean container. Bats become airborne by first swooping downward, so for the release site I chose a tree at the top of a ridge. (I was assuming, of course, that instinct would lead him to try to fly away from me, rather than at me!)

Donning gloves, I gingerly opened the container (while a friend shot these pictures), tilted the bucket towards the tree and watched him climb out.

There wasn't time for another picture! As soon as he had all four feet on the tree, he pushed off, swooped down over the ridge, started flapping and FLEW! Absolutely the coolest thing, ever! We watched him fly around for several minutes, testing his wings and apparently checking out very familiar surroundings.

Remembering how weak this little creature was when he was brought to me, having been left for dead and put in the trash--and then to see him HOME--darting and swooping around the buildings and chimneys at my school--was truly a magical moment.

Perhaps it's this type of "magic" that lures people into the field of wildlife rehabilitation.... Like the little boy on the beach throwing starfish back into the sea, we can't save them all, but each saved life and successful release is a victory.

As I say on each of the "bat pages" on my website, I was caring for this Big Brown bat 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.

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 little most people know about real 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.

Bats are mammals, meaning that the babies are born alive and suckle milk from their mothers. On average, female bats give birth to just one baby per year, and they can live for 20 years! They are more closely related to primates than they are to rodents, and they are not blind. 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.

For more information about these highly intelligent, vitally important and gentle creatures, please follow the links below.

Bat-Related Links
Bat World Sanctuary and Educational Center
Bat World Sanctuary on Facebook
Bat Conservation International, Inc.
Bat Rescue Resources by State
What is Killing the Bats? (Smithsonian Magazine, August 2011)
The Bat Lady (ConnectKids website, 2007)

Bat-Related Articles on my Website
Baby Bats, Spring 2012
Baby Bats, Spring 2011
Big Brown Bat, Winter 2011
Baby Bat, 2010
Baby Bat, 2005

Other Resources

Highly recommended for those interested in the science behind animal behavior:


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