At a recent training sponsored by Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release, Corky Quirk, a bat expert and environmental educator at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, addressed a group of 25 potential bat rehabbers, explaining the do’s and don’ts of bat rehabilitation.
She also brought along several of her “Education Bats” that were injured or born with wing defects and would not survive in the wild. These critters were calm, alert and seemingly interested in all that was going on while being held. When not held, they clustered together in a small plexiglas case, fast asleep.
According to Quirk, “Bats are a critical component in ecosystems worldwide, as well as important to human needs. Bats eat huge numbers of insects, substantially reducing agricultural crop damage. In addition, the number of mosquitos eaten by bats reduces the chances of human illness due to West Nile Virus and/or other mosquito-borne problems. A single bat can eat 600 mosquitos in an hour.”
There are two primary distinctions of the 17 species of bats found in Northern California — crevice dwellers and tree dwellers. Crevice dwellers are social and need fellow bats around. They are often found in sizable colonies in abandoned mines or buildings or underneath freeway bridges. Tree bats are more solitary. They roost among the leaves of trees. Northern California bats have wingspans ranging from 23 inches for the Mastiff Bat (although somewhat rare) to 7 inches for the Canyon Bat or Western Pipistrelle. One of the most common species in the foothills is the Big Brown Bat, with a wingspan of 13-16 inches, which can be seen just after sunset. It will hunt for two hours, then roost and hunt for an additional two hours before sunrise. It can often eat its body weight in insects each night.
Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release volunteers rescue approximately 60-100 baby or injured bats a year. They help rehab babies, “teenagers” and injured bats. Babies are born in June and July. In addition to hydration, baby bats need to be fed a formula.
“Often our busiest time is in August or September when the bats become teenagers,” Quirk said. “They are learning to fly and while trying to rest on a screen door, might inadvertently wind up inside the house. The teenagers are more excitable than adult bats. They need be taught to eat meal worms, as their inclination is to eat mostly flying insects.”
Injured bats need to have their injuries addressed, often by a “bat” veterinarian. Injuries can include broken bones, torn wings and a variety of other ailments. As soon as they can fly and hunt, they are released within three miles of where they were found.
Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release and NorCal Bats offer these suggestions if one finds an abandoned baby (or group of babies) or an injured bat:
— Do not handle them without gloves.
— Wait until the bat is still and use a small box, empty paper coffee cup or other small container and scoop the bat into the container. Then cover it. Keep it warm.
— Call Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release for more information, 530-432-5522 or 530-902-1918.
— If a bat gets into your house, open the doors, turn off the inside lights, turn on the outside lights and wait until the bat heads to the moths fluttering around an outside light.
If you have a bat house and wonder where to put it, Quirk recommends not putting it on trees but instead on the side of your house, 10-20 feet off the ground. An east-facing wall that gets six hours of sun a day is best. Bats need warmth, but too much sun can be a problem.
Like most wildlife rehabbers, Quirk needs additional volunteers. She is one of the very few in Northern California. Her day often involves picking up orphaned or injured bats anywhere in the Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills. Then the job requires transporting the bats to the vet and their ongoing care and feeding.
In addition to more funding, one need is for bat sleeping bags. Bats need to stay warm, and small, pouch-like sleeping bags do the trick.
“A couple dozen sleeping bags would really help out,” she stated. Contact Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release for directions on how to make bat bags.