How can I help bats?

Learn about Bats. Fear of the unknown is a natural reaction. Since bats fly at night and we cannot hear their calls, they often remain invisible and unfamiliar to us. Bats have always been a vital part of our environment. Bats in Georgia fill a very similar niche during the night that bluebirds, flycatchers, and other insectivorous birds fill by day.

Grow bat-friendly native plants. When the natural habitat used by bats is altered by development, the bats may not only lose their home, but they may also likely lose their sources of food too. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has a list of native plants to attract bats on their website. These plants attract moths that the bats can hunt for food. Examples of a variety of these bat-friendly plants, such as Columbine, Wild Indigo, Button Bush, Mountain Mint, Black-eyed Susan, and others, can be seen at the Master Naturalists’ Pollinator and Native Plant Garden on the Big Creek Green Way at the Bethelview Trailhead.

Install a Bat House. Consider installing a bat house on your property or as a neighborhood community project. Putting up a bat house can help compensate for lost natural roosting habitat and encourage bats to eat the bugs over your yard. If you need to exclude bats from your house, then putting up an appropriately sized bat house nearby is highly recommended to give them somewhere else to go (besides into your neighbor’s attic).

Determine where you plan to place a bat house before buying or building it. In general, it should be mounted 10 – 12+ feet high on the side of a building or on a post and oriented to receive 6+ hours of direct sunlight. Preferably, the bat house should be located within ¼ to ½ mile of fresh water. They should not be mounted on, or within, 20 feet of trees. Additional information can be found here and here.

There are many different bat house designs in a wide range of sizes. These include the traditional flat front bat houses and “rocket box” bat houses. The rocket boxes mimic exfoliating bark on a dead tree where bats often roost. Some features that are good for the bats and can improve your chances of success are listed below.

  • Traditional flat-front bat house should have multiple chambers and be a minimum of 24 inches tall by 16 inches wide.

  • For our Georgia bats, the spacing between the roosting chambers should be 3/4 inch.

  • Climbing surfaces in bat houses should be well roughened or have shallow horizontal grooves for the bats to hold on to. Using a mesh screen is not recommended.

  • Bat house should have internal passages that allow bats to move between chambers.

  • Bat houses should have a well roughened or grooved landing pad of at least 4 inches.

  • Bat houses must be very well caulked and sealed to retain heat and keep out the wind and rain.

  • Bat houses need appropriately placed vents to prevent over heating when the weather is hot.

Fully assembled houses or pre-cut kits are available that can reduce the amount of work needed for construction. Some options can be found here and here. Our Master Naturalists group put together the 3-chamber bat house kit that was produced in Georgia by Habitat for Bats.

Building a bat house from scratch can be more economical if you have the tools and talent.

The Florida Bat Conservancy has a link to plans for a 3-chamber bat house.

The Georgia DNR has a link to plans for a 4-chamber bat house and a steel pole mounted rocket box.

Indiana State University has plans for a 4x4 wooden post mounted rocket box.

Installing two or more bat houses increases your chances for success. Our Master Naturalists group mounted two bat houses back-to-back on a single pole so that one house shades the other. We painted the south facing house a medium to dark brown to catch the morning sun and warm up quicker. We painted the north facing house a lighter tan so it could stay cooler on hot afternoons.

Bats may take a while to find your bat house. If you have a good house in a good location, try to be patient. But if they haven’t moved in within about 2 years, you may want to “trouble shoot” the situation. Review the design features and the location requirements described above. Check to ensure the bat house is weather tight and free of wasp nests, etc. Clean, caulk, repaint, repair, relocate, or replace as needed.

You can contact the Forsyth County UGA Extension Office if you have questions about bat houses.

Monitor bats. The Georgia DNR is looking for your help to monitor summer bat roosts across the state. This citizen science project involves counting bats twice during each summer for about an hour at sunset as they exit their roosts. The first counting period is May 15 – June 15 and the second period is July 01 – July 31.

Roost monitoring provides valuable information to the DNR and other groups to help them understand bat population trends. If you have a bat house (or bats in your house, barn, etc.), or if someone you know has one, please consider monitoring the roost and submitting your observations. This is a real opportunity to contribute to bat conservation. See the Georgia DNR website for details or contact the Forsyth County UGA Extension Office.

Prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome. Information on WNS in Georgia can be found here. If you are a caver, follow proper decontamination procedures.

Bats and People

Bats in your house. Respect bats as you would any wild animal and do not handle or harass them. See the Georgia DNR website for more information on what to do if you have a bats in your house or see a bat behaving unusually.

If you need to exclude bats from your house, please recognize that bats are protected by law and you cannot harm them. Exclusion measures should not be performed during the maternity season when flightless young may be present (April 1st–July 31st). See the Georgia DNR website for more details.

Risks from Bats. The CDC stated that “In the United States, more raccoons have rabies than other wild animals, but it is bites from bats that cause the most rabies in people.” There are usually only one or two human rabies cases each year in the United States compared to an average of about 62 deaths per year from hornet, wasp, and bee stings.

Like most wild animals, bats prefer to avoid contact with humans. However, rabies is fatal. So anyone who has physical contact with a bat should get medical advice. See the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division website for more information about bats and human contact.

REMEMBER: A bat that can be easily approached by humans is more likely to be sick and may bite if handled. Simply do not touch or handle a bat or any other wild animal and there is little chance of being bitten.