Bats are fascinating animals; they are the world’s only flying mammal and can fly at speeds over 100 miles an hour. They also play a vital role their ecosystems by pollinating fruits, dispersing seeds and keeping insect populations balanced.
There are more than 40 bat species in the U.S. and Canada, but only a few kinds of bats ever cause problems for people. No, bats won't suck your blood or get tangled in your hair—but they may take up residence in your attic to raise their young.
No matter how big or small your outdoor space, you can create a haven for local wildlife. By providing basic needs like water, food and shelter, you can make a difference in your own backyard.
Are bats harmful?
Bats, like any other mammal, can carry rabies, but the incidence of rabies in bat populations is extremely low. Bats who do contract rabies die quickly, so they don’t cause an ongoing threat. Follow normal safety practices: Do not handle bats with bare hands, warn children not to handle bats, and vaccinate dogs and cats for rabies.
The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends capturing and testing any bat found in a room with a sleeping person. This means the bat will be killed to perform the test. This recommendation is made as a precaution, because people, children and the elderly especially, may be unaware of a bite from tiny bat teeth. In any situation of potential rabies exposure, immediately consult your physician and local health authorities.
If you find a bat on the ground outside, it doesn’t mean the bat is rabid. She may be ill, temporarily stunned from flying into a window, or—if the weather is colder—she may be too chilled to fly.
What should I do about a bat in my house?
Sometimes a bat may go off course and accidentally find their way into a home. This is no cause for alarm. Stay calm and follow these steps to remove them safely and humanely. A knowledgeable professional who understands bat behavior and laws protecting bats may be your best option. Bat Conservation International maintains a list of professionals who evict bats humanely. Your state wildlife agency may also be a resource to find help.
If you decide to remove the bat yourself, first contact your state wildlife agency to make sure you know what laws must be followed. Close interior doors and give the bat a way to get outside. If the bat doesn't exit on their own, it is best to wait until they land to try to catch them.
Wear thick work gloves—but not cotton, as most bats can easily bite through cotton. If gloves are not available, you can capture a bat in a rolled-up T-shirt or something of similar material. Make sure there is enough thickness to the material used so you will not be bitten. (Don't use a towel, as the bat’s claws might get snagged in its loops.)
Bats will most likely land somewhere they can hang—behind curtains or upholstered furniture, on hanging clothes or in house plants. Carefully place a plastic tub or similar container over them. Gently work a piece of cardboard or stiff paper under the container, trapping the bat inside. Now you are ready to release the bat outdoors.
How can I prevent bats from getting in my home?
If you have already found bats in your home, you need to find how they are getting in. Bats don't make holes to get into buildings; they use entry points we leave open. Small openings or narrow gaps high on houses allow bats to enter. Bats may also enter under loose-fitting doors, around windows and through gaps around conduits and utility vents. Inspect thoroughly and seal potential interior entrances.
Do this only when no dependent young are present—not during the time from May through August. Many states specifically prohibit excluding bats when they are raising young. Early autumn is the best time to evict bats. If you find hibernating bats during the winter, wait until spring when the bats will be able to fend for themselves.
Mylar or flash tape may repel bats from carports and gazebos, and plastic sheets attached with staples so that the bat cannot grasp onto the favored part of the structure will work as well. Make sure to put staples no more than an inch apart, so that the bat cannot crawl under the sheeting and get stuck.
Many homeowners who recognize the value of having bats at work for insect control will opt to put up a bat house at the time of eviction, hoping the bats will find and use it or occupy it on return the next spring.
How can I provide outdoor habitats for bats?
Give bats places to stay by protecting and planting native vegetation, and leave dead trees standing as shelter, when it's safe to do so. Those with caves or abandoned mines on their property can provide fencing and signs to keep people from disturbing hibernating bats.
Put up a bat house to reap the benefits of having bats nearby, whether you buy one or build your own.
Size and features
- More than 24” tall with 1 to 4 chambers, at least 20” tall and 14” wide
- Chambers 3/4” - 1” deep
- Horizontal grooves inside chambers, 1/4” - 1/2” apart
- Landing plate with grooves
- Shingled roof
- Open bottom
- Painted or stained surfaces and sealed seams
- Mount on a building or metal pole.
- Do not place above a window, door, walkway or deck.
- Mount with a 2” - 4” spacer and a long backboard.
- Place a shallow tray below for droppings.
- Choose a spot with at least 7 morning hours of sun, except in particularly hot regions.
- Mount houses on poles back-to-back, facing north and south.
- Choose a spot near water and diverse habitat, 20’ from the nearest tree branch or other potential perch for aerial predators.
- Avoid spots near air conditioner units, air vents or burn barrels.
- If vandalism is likely, choose a safer location.
- Monitor for predators, hornets and overheating in summer.
- Clean out any wasp or mud dauber nests each winter.
- Caulk, paint and stain every 3 to 5 years.
- Move or modify the house if no bats occupy it for 2 years.