Dispatches from Noway Lake: Home is where the bats are

kathleen-1

Kathleen Lippa, Guest Blogger

 This blog is written by guest blogger Kathleen Lippa.

It’s been five years since my husband and I installed a bat house (or bat box, as they are often called) near our house on Norway Lake, in the heart of the Ottawa Valley. I’m now thinking about moving it – maybe attaching the bat box to the side of our house. I invite readers knowledgeable about bat houses to weigh in on this.

I’ve come to deeply respect bats since moving to the lake. The well-being of bats is vital to the health of our ecosystem.

I once believed myths about bats being blood-thirsty neck-chompers. And yes, bats can be dangerous – they can carry rabies, so care is needed when dealing with them.

But since connecting with nature out at Norway Lake, I understand how desperately our planet needs bats. Their insect and pest control abilities are well documented and much appreciated (Bat Conservation International has been a wonderful resource for me). Bats pollinate plants, and disperse seeds brilliantly. And their poo, or guano, is an effective plant fertilizer.

When I first encountered bats in our loft I was terrified. The last one I dealt with was a Little brown bat who was wedged in our door frame, and flew in during a power outage.

After screaming and waving my arms around a lot, I got a large cooking pot, put it over the bat when it was sleeping (hanging upside down on our window screen at dawn) and slid a piece of cardboard over top to get him outside. Those sharp little claws ( I should have worn gloves) and high-pitched wailing was ghastly. He was just as scared as I was. Probably more. But we got him back in nature, where he belongs.

testThe next step was: How to keep bats out? I soon realized that the question should be, how to get them IN to their own safe situation.

We talked to our neighbors about bats, and they wisely recommended getting a local craftsperson to build us a bat box. I was clueless about the process. I have since learned that bat boxes or houses can be incredibly helpful to the survival of bats.

The Little Brown Bat, which we have at our lake, can be found naturally roosting under bridges, eaves, abandoned mines, and rock ledges. There are only two species of bats in Ontario that are known to use human structures as summer maternity colony habitat and Little Brown Bats is one of those species. They are listed as endangered, as it is threatened by White-nose Syndrome. White-nose syndrome is a fungus that spreads on a bat’s skin and causes a white, fuzzy appearance on the nose, wings or ears. The fungus infects bats’ winter hibernation cycle as it causes them to use up body fat supplies before spring when they once again go looking for food.

For their own bat house, this is what I’ve learned so far: A bat house must be near a water source. On this, we get full marks, right next to a lake. It should be 12 to 20 feet off the ground. The house needs full sun at least four hours a day. It also should be painted black – keeps the heat in better. In our climate, this is important. And it should be near a mix of agriculture. Again, Norway Lake ticks that box. There are a number of specific design details going on inside the house our box maker followed, keeping in line with Bat Conservation International guidelines.

Where I’m looking to improve is the location of the house itself. Right now, it’s mounted on a tree. This is not great, as predators such as cats and other animals could disturb this home. I would also like it mounted on a slant to prevent babies from falling out when they initially leave the tight cling of their mothers.

I’ve also read that erecting a number of bat boxes together can increase likelihood of successful bat roosting, especially in a generally cool climate like ours in the Ottawa Valley. I will have to see how this can be achieved.

What YOU can do to help bats:

>Report bat sightings that strike you as unusual, and worth investigating. Knowledge is power. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks species at risk/in danger like the Little Brown Bat. You can report any unusual bat behaviour or deaths to the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781 of the Natural Resources Information Centre at 1-800-667-1940.

>Be a good steward – build a bat box! www.batcon.org is a wealth of helpful information about the proper construction of bat houses.

In future blogs from Norway Lake, I will let you know what we are doing about our bat house, and if moving it has made a difference. Ideally, hundreds of bats would roost there, and we continue to do our bit for the environment.