Adult Big Brown Bat – Winter 2011

On February 1, 2011, one of my co-workers walked into my classroom carrying a brown paper bag, and he motioned me to come over to talk with him. He told me that the previous evening someone had found what they assumed to be a dead bat in the gym. It had been swept up and put in a trash can, but when he noticed that it was still alive, he put it in a bag and took it home. That morning he took it to the biology teacher, but since she knew that I had a special interest in bats, she referred him to me.

I was pretty familiar with baby bat rescue given that a maternal colony of Big Brown bats would roost in the louvers of my attic in the summer months to have and raise their babies. Sometimes a baby would fall out of the louvers, and I’d learned how to help it (thanks to the support of a wildlife rehabilitator). But being presented with a very weak adult bat–at school–was a new experience.

As an art teacher, I always had a lot of random materials in my classroom, so I taped some nylon mesh (that I used for papermaking) inside a box, put on some gloves, and gently took the bat out of the bag and put it into the box. I didn’t know what was wrong with it–I’d rarely seen a bat during the winter months–but I knew that it was likely dehydrated.

Using a clean paintbrush dipped in fresh water, I touched its mouth with the wet bristles. At first it didn’t respond, but then it started lapping at the water; slowly at first, and then with enthusiasm. YAY!

Within a few minutes it had recovered to the point that it apparently realized where it was–and it started yelling at me! Excellent! Seeing a normal response out of this previously lethargic wild animal was a very good thing, and I felt it might have a chance.

I called Robin, the wildlife rehabilitator I’ve gotten to know over the years, and explained the situation. As soon as I could leave school, I drove to her house to deliver this adult (and increasingly vocal) bat. She said she would care for it until there were several warm days in the forecast, and then I could come get it and release it back at the school. When possible, it’s always best to release bats at the location where they were found so that they can rejoin their colony.

About six weeks later, the temperatures were mild and I’d seen some insects flying around, so there would be a food source for the bat. We agreed that it would be a good day to release it, so I drove to her house early that evening to pick it up.

She said that this bat–a male–had gotten rather fat during his “winter vacation” at her house. He’d quickly learned to eat mealworms and other goodies off a plate, and she hoped he would still be able to fly when he was released!

We came up with a couple of strategies of what to do if I discovered that he couldn’t fly, but with plans in place, the bat was put into a clean container and I drove to the school. It was March 17, 2011–St. Patrick’s Day–and there were no students on campus as it was Spring Break.

Bats need to “swoop” downward to get airborne, and realizing that this big Big Brown bat might need a little extra help, I chose to release him on a tree on top of a ridge. I just hoped that he would fly away from me instead of at me!

Donning gloves, I gingerly opened the container and peeked in. Yep, there was a big ol’ bat in there!

I tilted the container towards the tree, and watched as he carefully climbed out.

The second he had his feet on the tree, he pushed off, swooped down over the ridge, started flapping, and FLEW!  Coolest thing EVER to see him testing his wings, and apparently checking out very familiar surroundings!

Remembering how weak this little creature was when he was brought to me–left for dead and put in the trash–and then to see him HOME, darting and swooping around the buildings and chimneys–well, it was truly a magical moment. ❤

Perhaps it’s this type of “magic” that lures people to the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Like the little boy on the beach throwing starfish back into the sea, we can’t save them all, but each saved life and successful release is a victory.


As I say on each of the “bat pages,” I was caring for this baby Big Brown bat 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. 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.

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