So now maybe you are interested in bats and want to find some. It is always great to learn about nature then connect with it actually outside in nature!
Bats are a challenge, however. They don’t announce their presence with loud calls (mating or otherwise), they have no bright colors announcing their location, they come out at night when our eyes are least adapted to the conditions, plus they are small and mostly dark in the U.S., and in general, don’t make it easy for us to find them.
I have learned some things about locating bats that I will share with you. I will be updating this page as I learn more, too. Also, there is a section on this website, Places to See Bats, that offer great possibilities of seeing bats. Bats through most of the country will either hibernate or migrate in order to deal with winter conditions (like no food!), so you will not find them then except in places like Southern California or Florida.
A good place to start looking for bats over most of the country is by water. Many bat species look for their insect prey along the edges of water areas, whether that is a lake, stream, pond, marsh and so forth. They do prefer water that is not moving (so in a stream, that would mean in slow areas and pools). Look for bats moving against the sky and across reflections in the water as it gets dark.
Things to keep in mind about finding bats:
- Bats can move quickly from place to place because they can fly. That means that they might be found in one location one night and another on another night.
- Bats key need at night is to find food to fuel their high metabolism. They are going to be where the insects are.
- Bats vary in how fast they can hunt and how maneuverable they are, both of which influence where and how they hunt.
- Bats have seasonal changes largely due to insect availability, such as winter when in many areas, there are no insects for them to eat.
- Young people have better night vision than older people, so it is not unusual for kids and young adults to see bats when their parents and especially grandparents cannot.
- In areas affected by white nose syndrome, some of the common bats that always used to be found, such as little brown bats (little brown myotis), are gone from many places. There will still be bats around, just harder to find.
One thing you can do is simply ask to find out where bats might be found. I have asked park rangers, interpretive naturalists, relatives, friends, and so on, which have given me many leads on finding bats.
I once stopped at a hardware store on Cape Cod while wearing a t-shirt with a large drawing of a little brown myotis. The clerk saw that and said that the store manager had had some bats on his property. He happened to walk by, so the clerk stopped him and asked. He said that he did indeed have a group of bats roosting under the eaves of his garage. That was exciting news for me, but unfortunately, I was boarding a plane later that day and could not go see them.
There are some general things you to do and to look for, though the specifics for a given area will vary.
- Get low enough to be able to see bats against the sky as they come out from a roost or are feeding in an area.
- Old buildings, caves, and mines. Don’t go into any of them. You don’t need to. Bats will often roost in these places and you can see them emerge from them at night.
- Concrete bridges over water that have narrow spaces between beams. Concrete bridges hold a steadier temperature like a cave.
- Small ponds in areas where bats might live. They often come to them to drink as they emerge for night feeding. In dry areas, these ponds can bring in a lot of bats and many other animals as well.
- Wetlands, especially marshes with open water. Many bats find a good variety of prey at these locations.
- Streetlights at night in bat areas. Many bats will hunt insects the are drawn to the light.
- Check with local people. I know I already said this, but I can’t emphasize it enough.
Even if you think you are in the right place, how do you know if there are bats there, especially if the night is pitch black and you can’t see anything? There are three possibilities, bat detectors, infrared and night vision, which you will find on the Bat Finding Aids page.