We had a visitor come in this afternoon reporting that "there's a bat out there under the bench out front." I went out to verify, and sure enough, a juvenile bat, probably a little brown (Myotis lucifugus), although possibly a big brown (Eptesicus fuscus), was clinging to the side of the building just behind the bench.
My first thought was to relocate the little guy to a spot where it could rest in peace and quiet until nightfall, but there was no place near the building that would’ve provided the right shelter away from curious people or dogs. I was also concerned that if I moved it too far its mother would not be able to find it and nurse it come nightfall. So, I was left with the option of taking it inside.
I scooped it up, with much distress on the part of the bat, who did everything in its power to evade capture (even unflighted these guys can really move right along, scooting across the ground on all fours), and successfully deposited it in my Bird Rescue Unit (a cardboard box). With the aid of Mr. Mike, our Maintenance Man, we raised a giant ladder against the side of the building, and up I went, armed with the boxed bat. Let me just state for the record that it isn't easy climbing a ladder while carrying a 10" square box, especially for someone who has a healthy fear of falling.
Once at the top of the ladder (or, I should say, as far as I was willing to go), I discovered the bat's home: a gap behind the roof's flashing about 4" high and 2" wide - more than enough room for bats to emerge (and enter). Little brown bats only need a 1/4" space to get into a structure (or cave, etc.), while big browns need a space only a little bit larger.
On the first attempt, the bat dashed around the box, past my hand (I was wearing gloves, as any intelligent person does when handling bats), and finally over the edge of the roof. With its wings spread, it fluttered to the ground. Mr. Mike, using the BRU (the box), retrieved it and once more the box, bat and I ascended the ladder.
This time, rather than try to grab the bat and place it on the roof, I let it crawl out of the box on its own. It scrambled along the flashing, trying to reach the cedar shingles to climb up, but they were just out of its reach, and the flashing was too slick. So across the roof it scooted and right into the opening to the roost. Success!
According to my bat records, juvenile brown bats around here aren’t volant (capable of flight) until late July/early August. So, while this little one could flutter as it drifted to the ground, it could not fly. Odds are it had crawled out of the roost and tumbled off the roof, kind of like a kid falling out of bed. It had no way to get back to the roost, so it did the next best thing – it clung to the side of the building about 8” above the ground.
If You Find a Bat
Contrary to public belief, most bats are not rabid. The national average is that fewer than one half of one percent of bats are rabid – you have a greater chance of getting food poisoning at a church picnic than you do of getting rabies from a bat. That said, the average in NY State is higher (something like 6-8%), which could simply be a reflection of a greater number of bats submitted for testing.
Regardless, if you find a grounded bat, especially during the day time, it is always best to treat it as if it is diseased. In other words, DO NOT HANDLE IT.
If you are fairly confident that the bat is not diseased (as in this juvenile who fell from the roost, or a bat that is flying actively around your house at night), then there are some steps you can take to assure the safety of the bat and yourself.
1. Wear gloves.
2. If the bat is on a wall, or the ground, find a container, like a coffee can, and a piece of stiff cardstock. Place the can over the bat and gently slide the cardstock underneath, being careful not to squash the bat. This will trap the bat inside the can. Then you can take the canned bat outside and release it.
3. If the bat is flying actively around your room, open a window, turn off the lights, and leave the room, closing all other doors and windows. The bat wants to leave just as much as you want it out of your house. Using its echolocation, it will locate the open window and depart.
If you suspect the bat is sick (rabid bats tend to have a passive form of rabies – they are not aggressive, but instead tend to seek somewhere to hide), you should capture it (see steps 1 & 2 above), and contact your local health department. The bat will be sent in for testing.
Rabies is transmitted through contact with blood and saliva. In other words, you must be bitten to get the disease. If you are unsure if you have been bitten, seek medical attention right away. Rabies shots these days are a far cry from what they used to be. No longer do you receive a series of 21 shots in the belly. Instead, it is a series of about three shots in the arm. Pretty painless. It certainly beats the alternative.
Why Bother Saving Bats?
I have a special fondness for bats, as mentioned in a previous post (I’m also quite fond of snakes and spiders, but that’s fodder for another post). But more than that, I am very concerned about the prevalence of White-nose Syndrome (WNS) that is running through the roosting winter colonies of bats in New York State.
According to the latest information I’ve read, four of our nine species of bats have been affected by the disease: little browns, Indianas, northern long-earreds, and eastern pipistrelles. That leaves two of our hibernators WNS-free so far: big browns and small-footeds. The bats that leave the state for the winter (red, hoary, and silver-haired) seem to have dodged the bullet on this one.
Numbers indicate that upwards of 90% of the over-wintering populations of little browns have been killed off in some of the affected caves. While this species of bat is rather common across the country, these kinds of die-offs are drastic. Add to this the fact that bats do not reproduce rapidly (only 1-2 offspring a year), we could potentially be facing a catastrophic decline in bat populations here in New York State.
To me, this alone is enough reason to rescue any healthy bat that is distress.
And when I think back on the number of black fly and mosquito bites I got this spring (and am still getting), I want to do whatever I can to help restore the population of our number one insect predator. The world will be a much sadder (and buggier) place if we lose our chiropteran friends.