Scientist Top Tips

Dr. Nancy Simmons, a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History, says: I can watch bats from my backyard. Here are tips on spotting bats in your area.

DO

  • Look at dusk, night, or at dawn: Bats are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. At dusk, bats emerge into the night sky in search of food. It’s usually easiest to see bats just at dusk, when they are very active (because they are hungry!) but it’s still light enough to see them against a pale background sky. After dark, their fur makes them blend into the background of the night sky.
  • Find spots near water: Insect-eating bats go where the bugs are, and many flying insects live near lakes, ponds, rivers, and canals. Bats also need to drink, and in dry areas the best place to see them may be where they come to drink. Bats tend to prefer slow-moving bodies of water rather than fast streams. It’s also easier to see bats over water. In thick forests, they blend easily into the background.
  • Check out lampposts: Light attracts many insects, so bats will often hunt near sources of light.
  • Watch during warm seasons: Bats live in many climates and are active all year in places that are warm. But in North America, where we have cold winters, it’s hard for them to find food during the cold months when insects aren’t active. Most North American bats are not active during the winter, and either migrate south or hibernate when food grows scarce.
  • Join other bat watchers: Many cities have local clubs that organize “bat walks.” Check your local library or science museum to see if there’s a bat walk organization in your area. State and National Parks often have caves where bats make their homes. See if a park near you sponsors bat watching-activities.

DON’T

  • Don’t catch or harm bats: Only researchers with a license are allowed to catch bats. Animal control can safely remove a bat from your home if it must be captured. Usually, however, a bat trapped inside a house will leave on its own if you turn out the lights and leave a window or door open to the outside.
  • Don’t interrupt bats’ slumber: If you see bats sleeping in their roosts during the day, do not disturb them. If a bat’s roost is disturbed they may abandon it and not be able to find another suitable home.
  • Don’t disturb a hibernating bat: In the winter, if you find a hibernating bat, leave it alone. Even one disturbance can force a bat to use up much of its stored energy and may result in the bat’s death.
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