In June 2005, I rescued a baby Big Brown Bat that had fallen from the louvers of my attic. For whatever the reason, a maternal colony of bats would roost there each spring and summer to have and raise their babies. Around 11 pm on the night of June 1, 2010, I heard incessant peeping–and it wasn’t coming from the louvers…
I got a flashlight, and sure enough there was a baby bat on the ground near the basement door. Fortunately, I knew how to care for it until I could get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. I found a box, put on gloves, brought it inside and gave it a tiny bit of Pedialyte.
These bats are crevice dwellers and they are very, very good at hanging by their toes upside down from a piece of fabric. I grabbed a washcloth to give it a place to hide (which I quickly replaced with a piece of old t-shirt–terry isn’t good for them because they can get their toes caught!) and filled a couple of socks with uncooked rice, heated them in the microwave for about 45 seconds and put them in the box with the baby to help keep it warm.
The next morning I called Robin, who was a local bat and wildlife rehabilitator in my area, and she remembered me from 2005. She said she’d like for me to keep this one for a night or two to see if the mother would come get it, but asked if I could come to her farm to get some goat’s milk. She said the fresh milk would provide both nutrition and hydration.
When I got home with the milk, I offered some to this tiny little bat and it quickly figured out how to suck the goat’s milk out of a fine paintbrush.
I fed it room-temperature goat’s milk about every two hours during the afternoon and evening, and put together a special “house” from which the mother might be able to retrieve it.
Similar to what Robin helped me with in 2005, the box had a piece of nylon mesh on the back wall with a piece of thin fabric partially covering the mesh. The fabric would give the baby a place to hide, and yet (at least in theory) the mother would be able to access it easily. I put a tarp under the ladder just to be able to better see the baby if it happened to fall or crawl out of the box. I located the ladder in a part of the yard that was one of the major “flight paths” of the bats when they came out of the louvers.
I fed the baby again around 7:45 pm…
…and gently put it in the box, along with a couple of warmed rice-filled socks.
The baby did its part–chirping and peeping and calling out to a mom who never came. Finally around 1:30 a.m. I brought it inside and fed it a bit of goat’s milk.
With no successful retrieval by the mom after a couple of nights, it appeared that this little one was orphaned. I took it to Robin’s farm on June 4, 2010, and she said she’d only been able to save about half of the bat babies she’d taken in that year. She said that was a very unusual and disappointing statistic.
When I got home, I quickly scanned for any other fallen babies. Seeing none, I offered a quick prayer for the bats in the louvers above me:
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.