Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our daytime chores and lifestyles that we hit the pillow at night wanting nothing more than a good night’s sleep. We are missing a lot of drama, however, for while we slumber, the night life of nature gets moving! Not only four-legged creatures, but airborne hunters whose “day” is just beginning — Namely, bats and owls.
Bats often get bad press, generally due to mistaken beliefs and fears, when actually they should be coveted and appreciated. They’re worth their weight in mosquitoes, and are of much more importance than most people credit; vital in many cases. Bat Conservation International, Inc. has worked hard to get the word out, reporting that in many areas, bats are so essential that without them, thousands of other plant and animal species could die out — threatening entire ecosystems from rain forests to deserts. Yet, people, misunderstanding them, still fear and persecute bats, exterminating whole species.
As I’ve often pointed out in these columns, contrary to hype, bats are NOT flying mice that carry disease and get into peoples’ hair, nor are they blind. They seldom transmit disease to people or pets and our concerns with them should be no different from any other wild animal — simply leave them alone and do not handle them. If you see one that appears to be hurt in an area where children or animals are around, call for help or, if necessary, destroy and bury it, but do NOT touch it.
Bats are among the most gentle, beneficial and necessary animals on earth. They eat insects, pollinate flowers, and disperse the seeds that make the rain forest grow. One of the most important night-flying predators, they consume enormous quantities of mosquitoes, moths, leaf-hoppers, chinch bugs, and a variety of aquatic insects, many of which are crop pests and some that spread disease to people and animals.
Admittedly, it’s not a good thing when bats make a home in your attic. The best way to get them out is also the safest — for both the bats and the humans involved: this is to exclude them. In this area, now is about the best time, since babies born in the spring are able to fly. Bats that live with us go outside to hunt. If they can’t get back into your house in the morning they will have to go somewhere else to live
So, take the following steps: examine your home’s eaves and attic access carefully, especially vents, and prepare everything in readiness for exclusion at dusk. Bats generally take off while there’s still a fair amount of light — just after sunset — plenty of time for whatever carpentry work your situation needs. Bat-proofing is a simple matter of covering all egress/entry sites. Plan to do it soon, since many bats hibernate in the winter, in trees, rock crevices, and similar protected shelters. This will give them a chance to find a new residence before the cold sets in.
This summer has been a bumper year for mosquitoes. I, for one, appreciate the sizable help of the resident insectivore bats in decimating them. We have about 15 species of bats in the North Idaho area, all of which need a safe place to live. Bat houses are an ideal solution, as are unused outbuildings, and even brush piles around the property that provide a year-around home for birds, chipmunks, possibly raccoons, and hopefully a hibernation area for the bats as well.
A final caution: I have a woodstove for winter heat, and have on occasion during summer, found a bedraggled bat trapped in the cold firebox, apparently having fallen down the stovepipe. I now check my stove often during summer to make sure that hasn’t happened, and during first cold in late fall, start just a small fire to “smoke out” any accidental residents in the pipe’s outdoor “top hat.”
Please respect — from a distance — our velvety little night-fliers. They are truly worth their weight in mosquitoes!
Our other night flyer is the beloved owl. We are blessed with several types in our wooded areas — from the big guys: Great horned and their familiar “eight-hooter” call; the rarely-seen great grey with its very deep, resonant hoooo at intervals; and the occasionally visiting ethereally beautiful snowy owl, who flies down from the far north for short stays — a thrilling happening for the lucky nearby residents.
Smaller owls include the screech owl — who lives up to its name, scaring the heck out of campers; the very small saw-whet — named because it’s call is exactly that of a rusty saw; and the smallest — flammulated owl, slightly larger than a sparrow; a bit to the south-east in big ranch country, the barn owl keeps the fields clear of mice. Other owls are to be seen in the area , and it’s always a thrill to catch sight of one, usually snuggled unobtrusively on a tree, feathers blended with the bark.
If you’re aware of owls in your vicinity, consider that they may visit your water-source at night, and make sure to have it available to them. Also, on a rather scary note — if you know for sure (as I do) of a large owl living in your area, keep your cats in at night! A large owl can grab a cat (or a rabbit or chicken) without any effort at all — and it’s not a fate you’d want for your beloved pet.
We’ve encroached on our wild companions so that many are driven to “shopping in our store” for their meals (as witness our pesky bears!) and we must share the blame for their occasional forays. Take the proper precautions with the owls, welcome the bats with a nice bat-house, and live and love with our amazing night-fliers!
Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or by phone at 208-265-4688.