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Bats are lovely to watch in your garden on a summer evening as they swoop effortlessly around catching insects.

What are bats doing in my garden?

All the bats that live in the UK are insectivores, which means they eat insects, and lots of them. A single bat can gobble over 3000 insects in one night, just imagine if they weren’t there! You are very lucky if you have bats in your garden because without them there would be a lot more midges around.

Common Pipistrelle

Image via Wikipedia

Where do bats live?

Bats live in a ‘roost’, they are sociable animals so if you see one in your garden, chances are there is a group of them roosting nearby. They roost upside down, hanging by their feet, in trees, caves and houses. The bats you are most likely to see in your garden will probably be roosting in a building nearby, maybe even your house. Don’t worry they don’t do any damage and make very little mess, nothing that can’t be cleaned up with a dustpan and brush once they have gone! Bats are active for most of the year but hibernate over winter from November to March. They do move around and come out to feed in the winter if the weather warms up enough to stir them and their food from sleep.

How do bats find their way in the dark?

Bats are nocturnal which means they are active at night time. Contrary to popular folklore (as blind as a bat) bats can actually see, their eyesight is about as good as ours but they need a better way of finding their dinner in the dark, so they hunt for food using echolocation. They send out a high pitched squeak that bounces back off objects so they can find even the smallest insects. Bats have relatively big ears so that they can hear these sounds echoing back to them and home in on dinner! Humans can’t usually hear a bat echolocating so if you want to know what species is flying round your garden then you will need a bat detector. Each type of bat shouts at a different frequency and a bat detector will pick this up. You can buy a cheap one for less than £50, or if you are really batty get in touch with your local bat group and see if you can borrow one.

How do bats reproduce?

Male and female bats don’t often roost together, females tend to roost in big groups and males often in smaller groups or alone, only joining the females when it is time to mate. Mating takes place in the roost at the end of summer. In spring the female usually gives birth to just one baby bat, sometimes two, and feeds the baby for up to 6 weeks on milk. She will fly out herself to find food at this time if needed, taking the baby with her clinging to her fur. When the baby is older she will leave it in the roost, with all the other babies while she goes out to feed, like a giant nursery. When the babies can fly they will go out at night with their mother and learn how to catch insects. After 3 months they can fend for themselves though they will probably stay with the roost until they feel brave enough to leave home!

Are bats rare?

Bats are protected by the law which means you aren’t allowed to kill them or destroy a roost. This is because over the years their numbers have seriously declined – roosts have been lost due to buildings being knocked down, people repairing holes where bats previously got in to houses, trees where bats live have been cut down and changes in land management mean fewer hedges that provide homes for the insects that the bats eat. All in all bats have had a pretty rough time of it!

How can I help?

You can help by providing bat boxes, there are many different types, don’t expect bats to take up residence straight away as they can be very fussy! A wide variety of trees and shrubs in your garden will attract lots of insects for the bats to eat and keep their bellies full! A pond would also be handy for them to drink from. Clumsy young bats can often fall out of the roost or get injured by cats or even owls. If you find a bat on the ground in your garden you should pick it up carefully (not with bare hands though as they have sharp little teeth), wear gloves or use a tea towel and put it in a box with a shallow dish of water, then call someone like the Bat Conservation Trust for advice.

Bat facts

  • There are 18 species of bat in Britain, over 1100 species in the world (3 of which feed on blood, but unless you are a cow and live in South America you should be safe!)
  • Bats are the only true flying mammal, they have small furry brown bodies and wings.
  • Their wings are basically their fingers with skin stretched between them.
  • Most bats are quite small and will fit into the palm of your hand.
  • Bats are active at night so you are likely to see them flying around in the garden catching insects sometime after dusk.
  • Up to 1000 bats have been found in a single roost.
  • Bats rest by hanging by their feet, blood flows from their feet to their head (opposite to humans) so blood doesn’t rush to their head when they hang upside down.

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