Your New Bat House - Tips and tricks for attracting bats
So you want to put up a bat house. Good for you! Bats are marvelous little creatures that play a highly important role in our ecosystem. They can also play a wonderful part in minimizing the population of biting insects around our homes – keeping away mosquitoes and black flies without the use of harmful pesticides. Did you know that a single bat can eat one thousand mosquitoes in an hour? Putting up a bat house is a great way to keep bats around your home, and following a few important guidelines can significantly improve your chances of attracting a bat colony to the spiffy new pad. Here are some tips that should help:
1. Location, location, location.
Bats most often choose to raise their young within ¼ mile of water, so having a pond or stream nearby will help make your bat house desirable. If you’re not blessed with a natural water source, don’t despair though - even just having a large bird bath or a small swimming pool in your yard can be enough to attract them. Bats also like to be in areas with plenty of plants – so if you’re not in an area that’s naturally lush with vegetation, having a garden could help.
2. Distance from the ground.
Higher is better. Bats like to roost at least ten feet from the ground, and even higher if possible.
3. Mounting surface
Bats tend to choose houses that are mounted either on the side of a building, or high off the ground on a sturdy pole. Houses mounted on trees can also attract bats, but they don’t have as high an occupancy rate. Tree branches can provide a roost for natural predators (owls, hawks, and even blue jays), so having a home without branches has definite benefits.
4. Exposure to sunshine.
Temperature is very important to the females, when choosing a place to raise their young – they prefer the interior of the house to remain between 80 and 100 degrees, as much as possible. To help achieve this, it’s important to place your bat house so that it gets the correct amount of sunlight. In most climates, all-day exposure to the sun (at least 10 hours per day in the summer) will help keep the correct temperature. So a southern exposure would be ideal. In the hottest climates, where July temperatures are routinely over 100 degrees, you’ll need fewer hours of sunshine, so an eastern or western exposure would be better.
The color of your bat house will also play a factor in keeping the house at an ideal temperature. Although many houses on the market are light colored, or simply raw wood, studies show that these light colors only work best in the hottest climates – where average daily high temperatures exceed 100 degrees in July. If average high temps in July are less than 95 degrees in your area, you’ll want to go with a darker finish – brown or dark grey. If the high temps average less than 85, go with all black.
Larger bat houses are much more likely to be inhabited than smaller ones. So although there are many adorable little bat houses being marketed, you’re much more likely to have success getting bats to move in, if your house is quite a bit bigger than these - it should be at least 2 feet tall, and at least 14 inches wide. Bats also seem most likely to move into homes with more than one brood chamber, and more seems to be better. I’d suggest opting for a design with 4-7 chambers.
Make sure the bat house you choose is waterproof – that all the seams are tight, and well sealed. If it’s wood, make sure it’s not pressure-treated – treated wood releases chemicals over time, which aren’t healthy for baby bats. Do make sure that all the inside surfaces are rough – bats need to be able to cling to the walls, and smooth surfaces can make that difficult. However, houses with mesh-lined walls are NOT a good choice, as they can break down over time – baby bats have been known to get stuck under the mesh, and can die. Another amenity that helps make a home attractive to bats, is having a small landing platform below the opening to the brooding chambers.
If you’re hoping to have your new bat house used within the first year, it’s best to install it in the spring, before bats return from their winter hibernation. Late is better than never though – so if spring has come and gone, but you’re feeling inspired, go ahead and put one up! Bats often scope out an area in the autumn, before returning to their hibernation caves for the winter, looking for good new spots to roost the next summer. If you put up a house now, and follow the guidelines above, you may well find yourself with a house full of bats, when they return in the spring. Best of luck, and please feel free to share your success stories, tips, and bat-house plans – I’d love to hear them!