The Benefits of Bats and How to Attract Them to Your Yard
Kids love bats, because bats are cool and weird. But it’s no wonder that myth and superstition surround these wee creatures, given that bats:
- Only come out at night.
- Are the only mammals that can fly.
- Congregate in large numbers in deep, dark caves and creepy abandoned places.
- Can navigate the world in total darkness.
- Hang upside down while they sleep.
- Make strange, otherworldly clicking and chirping sounds.
Granted, they’re not much to look at, but bats are amazing little critters that can do your back yard a world of good, and a bat house is just the thing to entice them to take up residence out back.
The Benefits of Bats in the Back Yard
Bats offer three major benefits for your back yard.
Bats are pollinators.
Bats, like bees, are attracted to the nectar of plants. When the bees head back to their hives for the night, the bats emerge to take over pollinating duties. Bats in the back yard can lead to fuller, healthier flower beds and ornamentals.
Bats eat tons of mosquitos and other pests.
Bats are the primary predators for night-flying insects like mosquitos, moths, gnats, and flying beetles. They eat the same bugs that plague your garden, so a population of bats in the yard can go a long way toward reducing your pesticide use. Bats also greatly reduce the mosquito population in your yard, although you should still wear repellent when you’re out back, especially in the evenings. (I recently wrote all about which mosquito repellents are safe and effective, if you're interested.)
Every hour, a single bat can eat up to 600 mosquito-sized insects, which adds up to half its body weight in bugs each night. In fact, because of their voracious appetite for insect pests, bats are worth more than $3.7 billion a year to the economy in reduced pesticide use and crop damage, according to Bat Conservation International.
Bats excrete prized fertilizer.
Bat poop, called guano, is an excellent fertilizer, one of the best you can get your hands on. It typically contains 10 percent nitrogen, three percent phosphorous, and one percent potassium. It lasts a long time in the soil, and it’s particularly beneficial to your flowers, ornamentals, herbs, and veggies. If you’re a gardener, you can’t buy better fertilizer than what bats produce for free.
Welcome Bats to Your Back Yard with A Bat House
Because of habitat losses, bats are finding it harder and harder to find adequate daytime roosting places, so a bat house is central to encouraging them to move into your yard, and it can help a bat colony thrive.
Bat houses are designed with bats' needs and natural habitats in mind, and they have a number of key characteristics that make them perfect bat habitats. An ideal bat house:
- Is at least two feet tall and 14 inches wide. Smaller bat houses can work, too, but you don’t want to go too small, since the bigger the house, the more likely the bats will come.
- Is very narrow—three to five inches deep—to mimic the space between the a tree and its bark, which is an ideal nursery for bats.
- Is open at the bottom to prevent the buildup of guano and discourages parasites.
- Has multiple chambers, which increase capacity and allow bats to better regulate their temperature. However, many bat houses are single-chamber jobs and work just fine.
- Has roughened-up interior walls to make it easier for the bats to climb. Some bat houses are made with wire or plastic mesh lining the walls.
- Has grooves in the interior walls to make landing and roosting easier.
- Has a landing pad at the bottom of the house so bats can land and climb into the roosting chambers.
- Has a small vent on each side and one in front to allow air to circulate and prevent overheating.
- Has caulked seams to prevent drafts and keep the house dry.
- Is painted a dark color to absorb the sun’s energy and keep it warm and cozy. Use non-toxic, water-based latex outdoor paint.
The Best Place to Hang a Bat House
The best place to hang a bat house is on the side of a building, at least 12 feet above the ground. Trees aren’t the best place to hang a bat house, because predators like cats and snakes can reach it without effort. You can also hang the bat house from a metal pole that predatory critters can’t easily climb up. The bat house should be 10 to 15 feet away from trees to keep predators to a minimum and allow them to exit the house with plenty of room to fly away, but it should also be as sheltered from the wind as possible.
Since bats like it between 90 and 100 degrees in their bat house, hang it where it’ll get plenty of direct sunlight, ideally six or more hours each day. South-, southwest-, and southeast-facing bat houses get the most mid-day sun.
A bat house placed near a water source, such as a pond or birdbath, is likely to do better than one placed far from a water source. If there’s a pond, creek, river, lake, or other water source within a quarter of a mile, you probably don’t need to provide your own water source.
Maintaining a Bat House
Give your bat house a once-over each year, sometime between November to early March, when it won’t be occupied. Repair any cracks, and re-caulk the seams if necessary. Look inside with a flashlight to make sure there are no unwanted guests squatting in the house, such as wasps or mud daubers. Scrape out any guano buildup with a stick.
How Long Will it Take to Get Bats?
Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while for bats to move in to your bat house. Bats have a slow reproductive cycle, and it can be one to three years before your bat house is occupied to capacity.
DIY Bat Houses
Building your own bat house can be a fun family project. Bat Conservation and Management offers a $5 downloadable plan for making your own modern, best-practices bat house. It includes complete instructions for building, assembling, installing, and maintaining a bat house.
If you’re looking for free bat house plans, Bat Conservation International offers this free bat house plan for building a four-chamber nursery house.
Pre-Assembled Bat Houses
If you want bats in your back yard, but you don’t want to build your own bat house, you can buy one online. Amazon has a ton of bat houses, but we’re looking for larger, well-made houses made in the USA with untreated wood.
Here are my top three Amazon picks for pre-made bat houses:
Approved by the Organization for Bat Conservation, this large, sturdy bat house measures 24 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and about 5.5 inches deep. It holds up to 300 bats and is constructed using actual tree bark reclaimed from the lumber industry. The bats will love that! It comes with complete directions for placing and hanging the house. This house earned 4.7 out of 5 stars from 42 customer reviewers.
Six reviewers give this smaller, less-expensive bat house five stars. Made from western red cedar, it’s resistant to weather and insect damage. It measures about 15 inches tall, 10 inches wide, and 3.5 inches deep. Although this is a single-chamber bat house, it has grooves on the inside front and back walls, which enable bats to roost next to each other as well as across from each other, keeping them toasty warm.
Another smaller, single-chamber house, this one is 15 inches tall, 14.5 inches wide, and 3.6 inches deep. It’s made in the USA out of cedar, and it holds up to 20 bats. The interior walls are grooved, and is constructed with screws instead of nails for durability. Thirty-three reviewers give this bat house 4.7 stars.
Bat Myths Got You Down?
Still on the fence about inviting bats into your back yard? You may be suffering from the collywobbles because of these totally unfounded myths.
Myth: Bats are just flying rats.
Fact: Bats aren’t rodents. In fact, bats are so special that they have their very own order, which is Chiroptera.
Myth: Bats are fraught with rabies.
Fact: The Centers for Disease Control reassures us that most bats don’t have rabies. Only one or two people contract rabies each year in the U.S., a very small number largely due to rabies vaccinations and the fact that people pretty much know these days that you shouldn’t handle a sick animal. The CDC stresses that if you find a bat in your home, lawn, or somewhere else it shouldn’t be, especially during the day, it’s likely to be sick, and there’s a small chance that it could be rabid. Any time you encounter a bat that can’t fly, especially if it’s in your home, you should contact Animal Control and give the little buddy a wide berth until someone arrives properly trained and attired to catch a wild animal. The CDC recommends teaching your kids to avoid handling unfamiliar animals by giving ‘em this little rhyme: “Love your own, leave other animals alone.”
Myth: Bats like to get tangled up in your hair.
Fact: Bats are gentle, timid creatures, and if they get tangled in your hair, it’s not because they’re trying to. Why would they want to be trapped in your gnarly hair, you all screaming and flailing around? The truth is, the chances are very, very slim that a bat’s gonna wind up in your crowning glory. If a bat swoops near you, she’s just heading for that nearby insect, probably saving you from a bite. Remember: Bats navigate by echolocation using a built-in sonar system that’s thousands of times more efficient than what humans have built. They know perfectly well you’re sitting right there, and the last thing they want to do is tangle with you—or your hair.
Myth: Bats will suck your blood.
Fact: There are only three species of blood-sucking bats, and they all live in South and Central America. But they’re not interested in human blood, preferring instead the blood of smaller, tastier animals.
Myth: A bat house in the yard will just attract bats into your house.
Fact: Bats don’t want to live in your house. It’s not at all what they’re looking for in a residence. It’s too bright, for one thing, and there’s far too much going on for their liking. There aren’t enough insects to feast on (we hope!), and it’s too hard to get in and out. Bats prefer roosting under bridges and in trees, abandoned buildings, and caves. And bat houses.
More Bat Resources
For some information about your local bat populations and some tips for enticing your particular species into your yard, type, “bat resources [your state] Department of Natural Resources” into Google and see what comes back. Many states have bat conservation programs with fun outreach activities for the whole family. Some even have bat-counting projects your kids can get involved with. Your local university’s extension office will also probably have lots of information about the bats in your area.
Have you had good luck with bat houses? Share your story in the comments!