Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bats Under the Congress Avenue Bridge

With no suggestion that bats are birds, I include the Bats Under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas for their unique ability to fly. 

Arguably without the grace or elegance of a true bird, bats possess self-powered flight, which in my estimation is enviable. Flight is something other mammals including humans have yet to achieve.

Nearly every spring and summer evening as the sun passes below the horizon, hundreds of people gather at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas.

The people come to watch the bats as they wake for an evening of insect hunting. Finding a good spot near the bridge is not difficult…most people get good views of the bat show.

Waiting in the wings are the stars of the show, the bats.  Tightly packed under the reverberating bridge are thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats. During the day the females, mostly pregnant, huddle together along slender openings just large enough to accommodate their three and a half inch body and a ‘pup’.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The babies are called pups because bats are mammals. The pups (live births) can account for a third of the mother’s size…a comparison would be a woman delivering a 40 pound baby. 

Pink and hairless when born, the pups are nursed until they learn to gather  insects for themselves in about six weeks.   

The triggers that launch them into the air are hunger and darkness. 

Bats are beneficial.  They eat millions of migrating corn earworm moths every night, a particularly troublesome pest for farmers. That’s in addition to the mosquitoes and other more familiar nighttime pests.  Given the population estimates of 1.5 million bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge, their impact on the pest community is considerable. 

If agriculture isn’t your cup of tea, consider the monetary benefit of having hundreds of extra tourists in your downtown each night…Austin has. 

Austin took what some feared and loathed and turned it into a tourist attraction reportedly worth $8M a year.

Improving a bat’s reputation may be an uphill battle given all the negative attention bats garnered over the centuries, but it’s still a challenge worth accepting.  If you can’t accept bats as beautiful creatures up close, step back and enjoy bats at a distance...around dusk.

It’s one of natures seldom seen sights…bats on the wing.


Bat Conservation International