Maine Farmhouse Journal

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Rows of Smiling Little Faces

May 26 - 30, 2000

Our Bats Return

Our summer visitors, the colonies of little brown bats, returned from their hibernaculum on May 23 this year. Or, at least the males did. They usually show up a day or two before the females arrive.

I was on the road in Colorado for a couple of weeks and missed the return of the bats. We'd been anticipating this annual event for several weeks, but the weather has been unseasonably cold. When I got back to my B&B in Durango, the Leland House, I got Paul on the phone to see how the annual "battle of the bats" was coming.

"They're back!" he volunteered, even before I could ask him how things were going at the Farmhouse. "The bats showed up on Tuesday night - I've been watching them for the last couple of nights."

"...and, are they...." I tried to interject

"I've checked all over the carriage house, and they're not getting in!" he continued in an excited rush of words.

"...then where..."

"They have moved into the top of the barn, and are flying in and out of the front there." he finished.

Paul has been going out into the yard in the evenings, and watching the bats as they fly out on their evening forays. They are leaving from the large louver in the top front of the barn. When you poke your head up into the top loft of the barn you can hear the bats rustling and squeeking, especially just before they get ready to leave in the evening on their feeding forays.

So the new roof and all our work on the carriage house has apparently worked, and there is a payoff for those miserable hours spent up on the slippery metal roof last month (see "I Hate Working on Roofs). Paul has every right to be excited and pleased - foiling the bats has become a bit of an obsession with me and him. The male bats have been crawling into the gaps under the corrugated metal and spending their summers in the second story of the carriage house. Now that we have our book offices in the carriage house, we were reluctant to share them with the bats.

The new roof, Paul's new "bat wall" between the carriage house and the barn, and new soffits have all worked pretty well. We had hoped that the bats would move into the bat houses we have hung around the place. That they chose instead to roost in the barn is not unexpected - our summer visitors tend to be persistent and single-minded. Little brown bats live for 18 to 20 years and come back year after year to the same summer roost - changing their "routine" has proven difficult. Frankly, we don't mind if the bats are in the upstairs of the barn - we don't use it, and the gaps in the boards there would make "bat-proofing" it a major task. There is a nice, tight floor/ceiling between the loft and the main floor of the barn, so there shouldn't be a problem down below. Maybe we'll do something to encourage the bats to move from the barn to their bathouses next year, but not this year.

Rows of Smiling Little Faces

"And what about the attic?" I asked "Are the females back yet?"

"Haven't seen anything of them - just the bats in the barn." Paul replied

"Well, I get back off the road on Friday, and Penny and I will be up this weekend. Mebbe they'll be back by then."

Paul was not going to be up at the Farmhouse over the weekend, so we agreed that I would take up the "bat watch" and keep him posted.

Penny and I hauled another trailer of stuff up to the Farmhouse, arriving the end of the afternoon on Saturday. After unloading the car and the trailer, I got my flashlight and made my rounds of the bat-places. It was just that time of day when the bats would be waking up and getting ready to leave their roosts to feed, but I still had time if I hurried. First stop - Lunetta's attic.

Smiling faces stared back at me

The fresh bat droppings at the head of the attic stairs was not encouraging at all - I'd swept the attic on our last visit, and the floors should be clean. The droppings were concentrated around the chimney, so I swept my flashlight beam over the rafters and attic roof over my head. Shining back at me from their roost at the ridgeline were rows of little faces. Their bright little eyes seemed annoyed at the disturbance, and they started talking to me - probably telling me in bat-ese that I was not welcome in their roost and to move it along!

The female bats have come back
for the summer - in the attic!

They were clinging to the rough beams and boards on the inside of the roof, over a section probably three feet long. Then as I watched, they begin moving along a crack in the boards and started to disappear into a crack not as wide as my thumb.

The flashlight revealed sections of the corrugated metal roofing showing through the crack - so the bats were coming in to the attic after first having gotten under the metal somewhere and then travelling up the corrugations into this crack into the attic.

The bats were getting in
through a tiny crack in the roof boards

As I watched fascinated about 50 bats left their roosts and exited through the same crack to the corrugated metal. I hurried downstairs, and called Penny. She and I and Happy stood out in the front yard and watched the evening flight of the bats. They emerged from the top of the roof near the chimney, at the ridge cap, down at the lower edge both left and right of the roof, and from the eves. They very effectively avoided the barrier strips that Paul had installed on the lower edge of the roof.

There wasn't much more that I could do that night to seal the cracks that they were using in the attic. Although it is early in the bats' summer with us, and I didn't figure that the baby bats had been born yet, I didn't want to trap any of the young in the attic. To drive everyone out, I brought a big work light up to the attic and shone it on the area where the bats were getting in. I also left all the lights on in the attic and plugged in a sonic sound generator designed to keep bats and mice out of a 400 square foot area. Finally, I hauled up a ladder long enough to give me access to the top of the attic, and set it up in anticipation of the next day's efforts.

A Bowl of Angry Bats

After breakfast I headed back up into the attic, expecting to see no bats anywhere so that I could clamber around the rafters and seal the cracks in the boards. The bats have never done what we figured they were going to do, and this morning was no exception. Although the large number of bats in the attic was not there, at least a dozen or so remained - apparently oblivious to the glare of the spotlight and the "guaranteed" sonic bat-getter-ridder-generator!

Another way to catch a bat
(Bowl of bats not shown)

Back down the stairs. This time I came back armed with a large plastic bowl, a long pole, a couple of sheets of cardboard, and a pair of stout leather gloves. I securely shut the door to the attic, so they couldn't get into the rest of the house - it was just me and them! Very carefully I raised the pole up where the first bat was roosting and nudged her free - she dropped from the roost, spread her wings and clumsily glided to the attic floor. There she hissed and generally carried on to let me know that she was not at all pleased with me. I quickly went over, scooped her up with the cardboard, and deposited her into the bowl, covering the bowl with a board.

I repeated this same process a dozen times - nudge them loose, scoop them into the bowl, and go on to the next until I had about a dozen very pissed-off bats in the bowl. They were all arms and legs and wings and sharp little teeth - and pretty loud too! My bowl full, and all the bats caught (except one, who flew off and found another crack in one of the walls to hid in), I took my bowl of bats to an open window and dumped them out. It was really spectacular - they all spread their wings and flew off towards the woods. I have seen graduations and weddings where they release doves or butterflies - but I tell you, my bats aflight were just as fine, or better. Wonder if there is some new sort of trend we could set?

It took an entire can of foam
caulking to seal the cracks

Bat-free, I climbed my ladder and emptied an entire can of foam to seal all the cracks I had seen the bats using. Every other possible place where I could see the metal roof through the boards got sealed as well. For good measure I left the spotlight and the sonic generator on as well.

Over the next couple of days while we were at the Farmhouse, I checked Lunetta's attic several times. I could hear the bats between the boards and the metal roof. Other than the one lonely bat that kept flying back and forth over my head that I had missed catching in my bowl, the attic was "bat free"! The bats were still in the roof, between the metal and the roof boards, but I'll take this as a "win" in the battle of the bats.

Paul and I decided, however, that it would be very premature to count this as a final victory - not while we have smart, and persistent summer bat visitors! They have not yet moved into their bat houses, only moved to other places on the Farmhouse where we don't object to their roosting - the barn and under the roof metal. We'll take what we can get.

Allen and Penny Crabtree

Photo credits - Close-up of the Little Brown Bat is one of several images in the City of Windsor, Ontario's Bat Photo Gallery.

Sketch of "How to catch a bat in a buildingis from the University of Florida's Pamphlet "Bats in Buildings".

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Last updated July 3, 2000