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Urban Wilds Vol. 9 – Attracting Bats

by Prince Of Petworth June 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm 9 Comments

Bat visiting Woodley Park last year

Urban Wilds is written by Lela S. Lela lives in Petworth. She previously wrote about Tulip Trees.

I adore bats and have been thinking about how to coax more of them into our neighborhood. Growing up in the country, bats were a staple of summer evenings, but these days I rarely see them, particularly within city limits. As many as ten species of bats can actually be found in the DC area throughout the year, although several are migratory types, not permanent residents. Several of our species (including tricolored, little brown, and big brown bats) are being decimated nationally by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that is estimated to have killed over 6 million bats in North America.

As bat populations decline, we’re left instead with more insects that munch on us and on our crops (including that tomato plant on your porch). Most famous for their taste for mosquitoes – a single bat can eat hundreds of them in a night – they also eat prodigious amounts of other pest insects, including June bugs, Japanese beetles, stink bugs, and cucumber beetles, as well as moths and other pollinating insects. And all that aside, they’re just so freaking cute.

How to bring more bats into your life

In the mid-Atlantic, bats aren’t pollinators themselves, although they do play that role in other parts of the countries. But you can attract them by planting flowers that nocturnal insects enjoy. Try night- or evening-blooming flowering plants, like evening primrose, marsh phlox, moonflowers, four o’clocks, plaintain lily (a kind of hosta), and night gladiolus. Herb gardens with stand-bys like basil and mint are also good.

If you have a pond or stream near your house, bats can use it as a drinking source and will also hunt for insects around to the water.

Finally, if you have the space for it you can install a bat house. I always loved this idea, but we are chronic renters and have yet to find a landlord amenable to adding a bat hotel to the back yard. Bat Conservation International’s guidelines on bat houses suggest the structures be at least two feet tall – much bigger than the ones I’ve seen for sale. Have any readers installed a bat house and had anyone take up residence?

Finally – a quick word on rabies. Your chances of being bitten by a rabid bat are extremely slim, though it does happen. The DC Department of Health has guidelines on dealing with a possible rabies exposure here. Minimize your chances of exposure by never handling a bat directly, even if it appears healthy.


  • Anonymous

    Someone just told me that the minimum to get bats out of an attic is $2800!?

    More Bats nearby = increased rabies risk??

    • margaret

      This info might help: http://batworld.org/bat-problems/

      I don’t think you have an increased risk of rabies just from the presence of bats – I believe you’d have to come into direct contact with the bat.

      They are really great animals, and provide so much benefit to us – I hope you find a safe method to remove them from your attic. I’m sure the people at Bat World Sanctuary would be more than happy to talk to you about what you can do.

  • margaret

    Here’s a great resource : http://batworld.org/

  • Emmaleigh504

    I love bats! Happy that my tiny garden has some of those plants, but doubt it does any good since it’s tiny and surrounded by concrete.

  • AngryParakeet

    I was lucky to visit a scientist whose whole being was the study of bats. Visiting his condo I marveled at the pet bats as they flew happily from large potted plant to plant. Oh, and they enjoyed being hand-fed meal worms.

  • Anonymous

    I used to love watching them swoop low over our little pond when I was a kid. They drop their lower jaw to scoop up water to drink. We had tons of them… but we also had plenty of mosquitoes and every other kind of pest bug.

  • lovessoldier

    Only thing about bringing the wild into the urban – REPAIR COSTS. My close friend had to replace half of her attic due to the highly toxic bat scat that was left when she had an invasion of bats. They began to infiltrate her home via the air ducts. She had a little window above her attic which was slated, the bats got in, scared the be-jeezus out of her family (small child included). Called the exterminator, she had to vacate for 3 days (luckily she has a second home in MD) while they eradicated the bat colony that formed in her attic. An additional 3 days for the contractors to remove and rebuild the insulation, drywall and fixtures. Please beware you can not control a colony and bats breed rather quickly, so containing them to one residence is beyond reasonable. Especially within a city that is only 60 square miles. Good news though, I saw beavers on the city limits. Yeah Team!!!

  • Anonymous

    I love bats! Can we use Rock Creek Park and provide all the support they need there?

  • wreckfish

    Way cool. I just bought a house and am definitely planning to mount a bat box. Thankfully we have a friend (in Illinois) who builds these and will bring us one. We already have bats but I’d love more. We have a decent bug issue in the back yard and I’m hoping they will help. Speaking of bug control, I spend the weekend in a house with a bunch of chimney swifts around and there were almost no bugs, at least until the sun went down.


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