Bats in my Belfry? You be the judge… ps, it’s a true story.

Published Garden Gossip article from Jan/10.

Just the other day I overheard some folks discussing recently received Christmas gifts. I couldn’t help but chuckle at one person’s reaction when their friend shared that she had just received a bat house for her garden. Next to snakes, bats probably do more to creep the average person out than just about any other wild creature you can think of. It could be the fact that they look like winged mice. It may even be the wings themselves since bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that bats are nocturnal and are comfortable in a world that we can’t relate to. A little more pragmatically, our fear of bats may arise from the fact that they can often be associated with rabies. Whatever the reason, bats are not a well loved creature. The unfortunate part of this is that humans tend to be hard on creatures we dislike or don’t understand. What a shame. If people would take the time to learn about bats, they might come to gain a real respect for the beneficial role that bats play in our world.

As I stood and listened to the “bat house” conversation, I couldn’t help but be taken back several years to a time in my life when I too had a nice new bat house for my garden. Some of you may have already heard this story and if so, I apologize, but I can’t help but tell it again. It was about fifteen or so years back and we were living in South Texas. Our home there was surrounded by gardens that were overseen by a wide variety of bird and butterfly houses. Then, one fateful day I received a bat house to be added to the garden. I probably waited six or seven months after putting it up before my impatience got the better of me and I decided that since the bats weren’t moving in voluntarily, they were going to move in with a little help. The time of year was what passed for winter in Texas and it was cold enough that the local bat colonies were hibernating. Since I knew just where one of these hibernating colonies was, I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to sneak up on them and scoop a few into a canvas sack to be transported to their new home. With nothing other than that sack, some misguided intentions, and a willing helper in my young son Benj, I set off. The colony was nearly an hour’s drive from our home but it was a beautiful sunny day and the time passed quickly. Before we knew it, Benj and I arrived at the hibernation site, and successfully scooped up a bag of about sixty or seventy slumbering bats. We wrapped a string around the neck of the bag, tossed it in the back seat, and headed for home. As I mentioned earlier, it was a nice sunny day. Whether it was the sun beating on that bag or just the warmth from the car heater I’ll never know. What I do know is that one minute Benj was chatting merrily about our adventure and the next he was screaming something about “them” being “out”. It only took a second for me to realize that they were indeed out and our car was full of revitalized and confused bats who were swirling around and doing their best to find an opening to fly out of. Fortunately, Benj’s seat belt was on so that when he flung the door of the moving car open and tried to heave himself from the swirling mass of winged rodents, he couldn’t. I managed to weave the car through the fortunately light traffic and screeched to a stop on the side of the road. By this time the seat belt was off and Benj was out of the car like he’d hit the eject button. We lost a few bats through his open door but I was actually able to coral most of the escapees and get them back into the sack… which I double knotted. The more difficult part of the process was convincing Benj that it was safe to get back into the car. There were no more adventures on the trip home but I couldn’t help but notice that Benj travelled the rest of the way with one hand on the door release.

Once home, I took the bag of bats and tied it to the bottom of the bat house. It didn’t take them long to climb up into the reassuring darkness where they still rested later that night right before I went to bed. The next morning I couldn’t wait to go out and visit with my new garden “pets”. I grabbed a cup of coffee and raced to the bat house with a flashlight that I intended to use to examine them. Imagine my surprise when I shone the light up into the opening at the bottom of the house, and it was completely empty. Not one single bat was left. All that effort for nothing. Well, maybe not entirely for nothing as

Benj had the best show-and-tell story when he went back to school that Monday. One interesting side effect of our bat episode was that Benj soon moved from his cozy “cave-like” bottom bunk to his open and airy top bunk. Apparently it had something to do with dreams of bats and a newly discovered sense of claustrophobia.

The moral of this story, besides the one about not needlessly exposing children to frightening circumstances, is that if you get a bat house, be patient. If it is to their liking, bats will eventually find it and move in. If it’s not, then you at least have a nice new garden ornament that you can use to lead into the story, “did you hear the one about the idiot who took his kid bat hunting?”

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