Their cape-like wings and pointy teeth aren’t exactly endearing qualities. So why are people inviting bats onto their property? Building them houses? Well, it turns out bats aren’t as bad as they seem. In fact, they do a lot of good.
Bat House Benefits
Richard Neal was checking out his granddaughter’s Ranger Rick magazine when he came across a story about bats eating mosquitoes. According to Jessica Kindall, sales manager at Wild Birds Unlimited, it’s estimated they eat their weight in the bugs every night. “They weigh a few grams,” Kindall says. “When you add up that many mosquitoes, it must be hundreds.”
Banishing Bat Fears
The real bloodsuckers aren’t bats. They’re mosquitoes. In addition to causing incessant itching, mosquitoes can transmit dangerous diseases. Some fear bats and rabies, but this isn’t common. “A very small percentage of a couple of different species have rabies,” Kindall says. There are hundreds of species in the Ozarks (all small bats). Some would rather risk mosquito bites than a bat flying into their hair. That’s also not likely. “They fly 10 to 20 feet in the air, only swooping down if there’s a reason,” Kindall says. “Your hair wouldn’t be a reason.”
Building a Bat House
Neal found building instructions for his bat house online. “I used to be a cabinet builder so I have the tools,” he says. “It took me an hour.” Bat houses need to be made of solid wood that can get wet. Cedar is a durable, insect-resistant choice. Helpful tips for building a successful house can be found at habitatforbats.org and batmanagement.com. The Springfield Conservation Nature Center also offers building plans, and Wild Birds Unlimited sells pre-made bat houses and telescoping poles.
Bat House Installation
Install houses on a free-standing pole, at least 10 to 15 feet off the ground, to keep predators away. A telescoping pole offers easy access to monitor progress. It may take weeks or even years for bats to take up residence. “It’s like a bird house,” Kindall says. “You can’t really tell a bird to move in. They just have to find it.” If patience doesn’t provide results, try another area of the yard. Most houses start with fewer than 100 bats and grow over time. This means guano (feces) and urine, so install it at least 50 feet from the house, away from high-traffic areas. (Bat guano, by the way, is a wonderful fertilizer!) Like it or not, bats will be flying around this summer. Kindall says it’s “mind over matter.” Try to think of those cape-like wings as more “superhero” than vampire.