Are you interested in attracting bats to your garden? If so, this is a great time of year to plan for their arrival. Many of the bats we see here in the Northwest have either gone south for the winter, or are tucked away in roosts, conserving precious energy by limiting their activity until the weather warms.
You may have heard that bats are wonderful for insect control and they are—a bat can eat as many as 1,000 insects an hour. By devouring mosquitoes, crane flies and other pests, they protect our crops and human health. Bats are also mesmerizing, beautiful creatures to observe. Unfortunately, bat numbers are declining in the US and world, with dire consequences to our environment.
Many western Washington bats are forest dwellers—sleeping and raising their babies (pups, as they are known) in live or dead trees. When we cut down trees and move into forested areas, we disturb their habitat. We can help by preserving trees, snags and by building bat houses. Pacific Northwest species that might use a bat house include Little brown myotis, Big brown bat, Long-eared bat, California myotis and Yuma myotis.
While there is no guarantee that your bat house will be inhabited, there are basic tips to improve your chances, most of which involve understanding that bats need heat—lots of heat, as well as open space around their dwellings.
- Put your bat house in full sun—the hottest place on your property (usually south or west facing) and preferably on its own, tall post, not on a building.
- Completely seal the house with caulk and paint with flat, black exterior latex paint so that it collects and holds heat
- Place where entrance to the house is unobstructed so that bats have a wide, open area with which to safely fly in and out without bumping into things, and where predators cannot easily ambush them—10-15 feet vertically and horizontally.
- Don’t use pesticides
There are several styles of bat houses, but I have installed a Rocket-Box bat house at my place, upon the recommendation of Bats Northwest. This type of house is named as such because it resembles a bottle rocket. The idea behind a rocket box is that a bat that roosts in one can move to whatever side of the house they want to achieve maximum comfort. The south side of the house will be the warmest, the north side, the coolest, and bats can select their favorite spot at different times of the day and year.
The best season to install a bat house is in late spring when bats are returning from migration or becoming active after hibernation. Therefore, this is a perfect time to build one.
For detailed information on how to construct the rocket box, check out:
Bats Northwest, Inc.
P.O. Box 3026
Information on local bat species, their habits and conservation. Website features building plans for rocket box and other style bat houses, as well as resources on how to safely and humanely remove unwanted bats from buildings. Bats Northwest usually has an information booth at the NW Flower & Garden Show in Seattle–this year’s show runs February 20-24, 2013.
“Build a Better Bat House” by Colleen Miko, WestSound Home & Garden Magazine, Spring 2012 Issue.
The Bat House Forum www.bathouseforum.org
Connect and communicate with others who have bat boxes.
Bat Conservation International www.batcon.org
Information on the conservation of bats worldwide with books and DVDs on bat houses.
© Colleen Miko, 2013