A maternal colony of approximately 20 Big Brown bats roosts in the louvers of my attic each spring and summer to have and raise their babies. I first got involved in "bat rescue" in June 2005 when I found an unfortunate baby that fell from the louvers. I didn't really know much about bats at that time and had some of the same "fear" or trepidation about them that most people do. But since I was presented with a tiny little baby that would surely die if I didn't try to help, I got involved and haven't looked back.
Since 2005 I've learned quite a bit about these amazing creatures and I've also come to realize their importance to our environment. With White Nose Syndrome wiping out bats by the millions, each little colony--and each little individual within a colony--is vitally important. In trying to care for and protect the bats who live in my louvers, I've relied heavily on the knowledge and assistance of a local wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in bats. I've also taken a couple of classes on wildlife care and management through The Wildlife Center of Virginia. Perhaps someday I'll pursue my wildlife rehabilitator permit, but for now I'm glad that I can help by being a rescuer and transporter.
Some years I don't find any fallen babies (which is a very good thing), but the Spring of 2011 was most unusual. Beginning in late May 2011, a record number of babies dropped out of the roost. Here are their stories:
I found the first one, Baby Bat #1, on May 25, 2011. It was the tiniest one I'd ever found and it still had the dried thread of its umbilical cord attached to its belly. We hoped the mom would retrieve it, but despite putting it out on the mesh on the side of the house for two nights, it was unclaimed. It was taken to the wildlife rehabber on May 28th.
There aren't any pictures of Baby Bat #2 because s/he was a success story! It was found at night and it appeared to be strong and healthy. It was also a little larger than #1. It was put onto the mesh as soon as it was found and there was a lot of activity among the mother bats once we came inside. Within 30-40 minutes it had been retrieved! I wish all of them could be that lucky!
This baby was found on May 28, 2011. Aside from the coloration being different (Baby #1 and Baby #2 were more of a uniform charcoal gray), it also had a more "outgoing" personality. The rehabber said that bats DO have individual personalities and she really sees that when she puts them in the flight cage on her farm. Bat Baby #3 was apparently orphaned, too, so it was taken to the rehabber on May 30, 2011.
I found Baby #4 around 8:30 am on the morning of May 30, 2011. It was very weak and fully exposed in the sunlight. I'm surprised that I found it before a bluejay or crow did... I called the rehabber and asked what to do, since I was planning to bring her Baby Bat #3 that afternoon. She said that the best thing possible would be for its mom to get it, so I put it in the container with the other baby and said that I'd put it out that night. Unfortunately, it wasn't picked up, either, so I made another 30-mile round trip to the wildlife rehabilitator's farm on June 1, 2011....
Big Brown bats are good mothers. They usually give birth to just one or two babies in the spring and they can live to be nearly 20 years old in the wild. By contrast, most mammals of similar size give birth to multiple babies and can have multiple litters each year. Mice, for example, can have 40-60 babies in a year and have a life expectancy of about one year.
Bats are NOT rodents. They belong to the order Chiroptera, a name of Greek origin meaning "hand-wing," and they are more closely related to primates than they are to rodents. They're the only true flying mammal. While it's possible for Big Brown bats to become airborne from the ground, they usually need to swoop down from a height of at least a few feet in order to fly. Once in the air, however, they are remarkably agile and they can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
Most species of bats navigate by means of echolocation, as do whales and dolphins. The biosonar they use for hunting is in a frequency range that humans cannot hear. In addition to the loud peeping sound that babies make, adults communicate with their young and with each other in a range that is audible to human ears. I've described the adults' communication vocalizations as a raspy "electronic" sound and some nights the chatter of the adults and babies in the louvers is quite loud!
While Big Brown bats usually don't carry their babies with them when they're foraging for food (and a nursing mother needs to eat her body weight in insects each night) they can and do retrieve them if they drop from the roost--as was the case with Baby #2. So why didn't the moms come for the other ones?
Unfortunately, kestrels and hawks prey on bats, but their most common predator is another nocturnal hunter, the owl. I heard an owl calling in the distance on the night of May 30, 2011 and wondered if it had been attacking the mothers of these babies each evening....
Earlier, when I was taking Baby #4 off the mesh to bring it back inside, the adults were very active. Using a flashlight, I could see that the colony had moved to the north end of the louvers, away from the ladder which was leaning against the house on the south end. You have to look closely, but you can see bats hanging between the slats. I quickly snapped some pictures, capturing a few adults in flight, but my presence was obviously disturbing to them.
No babies fell that night. No babies fell the next night, either, and when I was out watering the garden around 9:30 pm on June 1st, there were no bats flying overhead, which was quite unusual. I then realized that I couldn't hear the normal chatter of mothers and babies in the louvers. They were gone.
The colony returned to the louvers on Tuesday, June 7, 2011. I found the first fallen baby--#5--on Wednesday, June 8th.
Baby #5 was older than the others I'd found previously, but that made sense, as the colony had been gone for about a week. It was clinging to the concrete foundation of my house, low to the ground. Remembering the successful retrieval of #2, I immediately put it onto the mesh, but since it was so weak and dehydrated, it wasn't peeping. I mixed up some Pedialyte and climbed up the ladder to give it some there instead of bringing it inside. It was a very warm, humid night so I left it outside a little longer than I've left the other ones.
When I checked on it a couple of hours later, it had climbed to the top of the mesh--beyond my reach. I came inside, called a dear friend who'd volunteered to help if I needed it, thawed and heated some goat's milk and got the containment area ready. When I went back outside, it wasn't on the mesh. I wondered if it had been picked up--or if it had successfully flown--but instead I found it on the ground. I brought it in, fed it, and took it to the rehabber on June 9, 2011.
When I called Robin on the morning of June 9th to let her know I'd found another baby, all she said at first was, "Oh, no...." She then said that she was starting to wonder if the moms "knew" something about these Spring 2011 babies and because of this "knowledge" they were purposely rejecting them--not orphaning them as we'd assumed.
With a sigh, she shared the sad news that the other three I'd taken to her had died.... They'd all seemed to thrive at first, but then one by one they started into a decline that she couldn't pull them out of.
Baby #5 appears to be strong and healthy and by the fact that she's older, perhaps she will have a chance; I don't know and neither does the rehabber who has raised countless baby bats over the years.
Bats are such delicate creatures--so sensitively and superbly designed for the natural world. One can hope that these Big Brown bat babies are not the "bellwether" indicators of the effects of electromagnetic frequencies, radioactive contamination and heavy-metal pollutants that are wreaking havoc on our planet this Spring....
As I say on each of the "bat pages" on my website, I was caring for these Big Brown bat babies 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.