Vail Daily column: Going batty
July 19, 2014
I think it was about 5 years ago when we noticed the strange droppings on our front porch. Too big for mouse and too small for rat, we swept them away and continued to ponder the mystery. Ground squirrels? What would they be doing on our porch? Then one night, my husband turned on the porch light, stepped outside and looked up. Huddled in the corner above our front door was a cluster of bats. It was hard to tell how many there were, huddled together in a furry mass of claws and beady eyes, but I would guess there were around 10.
My skin still crawls as I think about it. I hurried inside and Googled bat removal. I was surprised to learn that, while I considered them to be nothing more than flying mice, they are protected creatures and you can't just poison bats like you can do with mice. Professional removal of bats is expensive, requiring a tremendous amount of labor and a person with attention to detail. Bats can squeeze through even the tiniest openings; so every minute crack and crevice needs to be closed and filled if you want to keep them out of an area.
I learned that there were two species of bats likely to be sharing my home, the big brown bat or the little brown bat. Based on an examination of their scat, known as guano, the bat expert, who humorously called himself Bat Man, told me that I probably had big brown bats, which do not migrate. If I had bats that migrated, the solution would be relatively simple. Wait until winter and seal up all the cracks. But no, I had hibernating bats. Sealing up their holes in the dead of winter would probably leave me with bats in my house as they tried to escape in the spring. No thanks. The solution instead was to wait until it was late enough in the season that even the young would be out hunting, but before they started hibernating. I also had to wait until the bats had gone out for the night and then we had to go out in the dark to seal up all of their holes.
Bat bites are tiny and almost impossible to see and any possible biting is recommended to be treated as an actual rabies infection, which will require extensive and painful treatment.
It was a narrow window. My husband was not excited about this prospect, but he eventually made the late night foray out to staple up bird mesh and fill every crack and crevice with foam insulation. We held our breath the first few nights, but it seemed to have worked. Our porch has been scat-free ever since.
There are actually 12 species of bats listed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife, although only some of them are common in the Colorado high country. In addition to the big brown bat and the little brown bat, we might also see the hoary bat, the silver haired bat (dubbed "one of Colorado's most distinctive and attractive mammals" by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website), or Townsend's big-eared bat (easily identifiable by its very large ears). Townsend's big-eared bats are the only species listed as a State Special Concern species, but others appear to have declining populations. The rare spotted bat, easily recognizable by its spotted fur, is so rare that the department requests that any sightings be reported.
Words of Caution
A few words of caution are probably in order here. The exclusion of bats from your property can be dangerous. Before embarking on our mission, my husband and I consulted extensively with the bat experts and took additional steps not mentioned above. And while the myth about bats getting caught in your hair is just a myth, it is true that they can carry rabies and other diseases. Bat bites are tiny and almost impossible to see and any possible biting (including a bat loose in your bedroom while you sleep) is recommended to be treated as an actual rabies infection, which will require extensive and painful treatment. The decision to remove bats from your property should be made cautiously and, of course, we should always remember that these animals are a vital link in the ecosystem that supports us. Therefore, we should always be thoughtful and considerate when making decisions that impact wildlife.
Jaymee Squires is the director of graduate programs at Walking Mountains Science Center. She loves to watch the bats soaring and swooping at sunset, just not on her front porch.