How To Attract Bats To a Bat House
Bats make great neighbors. Here's how to entice them into your bat house, and your life.
I used to live near a 30-foot-tall bat house that a developer named Richter Perky built in 1929. He owned a resort in the Florida Keys, and figured if there were ample bats to eat the swarms of mosquitoes, it would make the place the paradise he envisioned.
Although he did everything right, the bats didn’t stick around. Sometimes that’s what happens with bats. But just because it didn’t work for old Perky doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Lots of people successfully attract bats to bat houses.
Why Do I Want Bats Around?
Besides being awe-inspiring as they come out at dusk, bats are ecosystem protectors. They eat harmful beetles and other crop-decimating insects, and their guano (poop) makes good fertilizer. But there’s one overriding reason to have them in your yard — their appetite for mosquitos.
“If you have an overabundance of mosquitos in your garden, you definitely want to encourage bats to set up housekeeping in your yard,” says Peggy Doyle, CEO of Gardening Know How. “One bat can eat more than 600 mosquitoes in a single hour!”
By encouraging them into your yard, you’re also helping them out. Many species are increasingly threatened by loss of habitat and water sources, improper exclusions, and extreme temperatures and diseases exacerbated by climate change.
“People additionally endanger bats by simply failing to educate themselves,” says Danielle Cordani, program coordinator for Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation. “Fear is the number one cause of violence towards bats, which is driven by misunderstanding.”
Does Where I Live Determine My Success in Attracting Bats?
A little. Bats prefer areas with reasonable access to food, water and shelter. Because they’re native to nearly everywhere, as long as those needs are met, they very well could take up residence in your bat house.
“It really is just a matter of a proper bat house, time and a little luck,” says Addison McCool, executive director of Bat World Sanctuary. “In many areas, bats are very accustomed to the sounds of traffic and people, and many colonies even roost in extremely urban areas, such as downtown Austin, Texas.”
So is it easy to attract bats? Yes and no. “We’ve seen bat houses become occupied in a number of days, and some in a number of years,” says Cordani. Here’s how to maximize your chances:
Buy or Make a Quality Bat House
A well-constructed bat house is a must. If you purchase one, get it from a credible manufacturer, like these recommendations from Merlin Tuttle’s researchers. If you have the time and money, install a variety of house options.
There are a variety of DIY options. I built this one. So far we haven’t had bats take up roost there, but I’m hopeful they will come soon. I’d love to have them around.
Choose a High Place to Mount It
Bat houses should be 15 to 20 feet off of the ground and at least 20 feet from any potential perches where an animal could reach the bats. That makes bats feel safer from predators like owls, snakes and raccoons, plus the height enables them to swoop down and take flight. It’s important not to plant any vegetation below the house that could hinder this. Cordani also recommends predator guards for houses mounted on poles, to prevent snakes from climbing in. Bat houses mounted on freestanding poles or on buildings have a higher success rate.
“Houses mounted on trees rarely work, and mounting in this fashion also allows for easy access to the bats by predators,” says McCool.
Also, avoid installing bat houses over common walkways. “This will allow people to avoid guano in unwanted areas,” says Cordani. “Speaking of guano, it should be harvested and handled carefully enough to not breathe in any dust — that same care you would take when handling any animal feces.”
Keep It Warm
Bats prefer warmth, so place your bat house in a sunny spot. Installing it on the side of a building can also help keep it warmer. But depending on your climate, bats may prefer varying amounts of sun and shade.
“Many bat lovers find success in double boxes either side by side or back to back, one side dark and one side light,” says Doyle.”This method allows the bats to relocate within the structure according to their needs.”
Just Add Water
Ideally, your bat house will be within a quarter mile of a freshwater source like a pond or stream. That makes life easier for mother bats when caring for their young.
A lack of water won’t make or break your success. But if you don’t have water nearby, you can try adding some. A bird bath is probably too small because bats fly low and skim the surface of the water to drink.
“Natural water sources not only provide drinking areas but are typically rich habitats full of diverse insect prey for bats to eat,” says Cordani. “Having said that, bats have been known to visit swimming pools to get a drink.”
Plant a Bat Garden
Bats prefer areas rich in native vegetation that draws a diverse suite of prey. “Planting night-blooming flowers, especially white or pale-colored ones, attracts insects and moths, increasing food availability for your bats,” says Cordani.
Put the Cat Indoors
Cats will take advantage of a roost if they can access it. Any predators will scare bats away from roosting in your bat house. “It’s important to limit any disturbance to your bat house while bats are present,” says Cordani.
Despite all your best efforts, it can take weeks, months or even years to attract bats.
“Bats are very stubborn about their roosting spots, so they will not abandon a roosting site in favor of a brand new bat house,” says McCool. “Something has to disturb them from that area, whether it be human interference or predator activity.”
Stay Au Natural
Unfortunately, there are no easy ways to attract bats to a bat house.
“There are sprays and other attractants on the market, but those do not have any proven track record of actually working,” McCool says. “Some bat hormone attractants will actually have the opposite effect, as some species are territorial and will avoid houses that have used these sprays.”
Start a Maintenance Routine
Check your bat house periodically to make sure wasps haven’t moved in, and remove them if they have. Then, once bats begin roosting, observe their behavior to learn how you can best accommodate them. “It’s important to remember that installing a bat house is a commitment, and it requires patience and maintenance!” says Cordani.