Ducking in and out of the back door the other night, I was surprised to see something small and dark moving by the outside door frame. Probably a frog, I thought. We get lots of them on the glass sliding door during rainy summers like this one.
Then I shined the flashlight and looked more closely – yikes, a bat!
Now in all the years I’ve had the bat house in my backyard, I’ve never come face-to-face with a live bat. Never. And yet here was a quiet, but very much live, bat clinging to the rough wood of the door frame. What to do — my own usual advice flashed through my head — never handle a sick or injured animal. But this one didn’t look sick or injured, in fact he or she was industriously climbing up the outside door frame to get away from the light.
Another possibility that dawned on me was this; the back door is covered with an overgrown trellis, a knot of vines that extends from the eves, out over the picnic table and down to the ground. Maybe this little guy had flown up under the trellis and just gotten trapped. Bats can’t take flight from the ground, after all. They rely on dropping down a bit from a height to gain airspeed before flapping off. But there was no way that this individual could do that from where he or she was clinging. Even if the bat made it to the top of the door frame, the vines and the trellis blocked any reasonable launch trajectory.
So I ran around to the front door, and got my son, something of a animal wrangler himself, and my daughter to hold the flashlight. Together, and wearing my heaviest neoprene-impregnated work gloves, I managed to trap the bat (who remained superficially calm) under a plastic flower pot. Sliding a plastic plate underneath between the pot and the door frame, we succeeded in removing the bat from the door, hopefully with little trauma. Spotlighted by the flashlight, I climbed a ladder to the roof and gently placed the bat on near the edge. When I checked five minutes later he or she was gone, so I’m hoping the outcome was positive.
From the picture, it’s pretty clear our friend is a free-tailed bat, probably a Brazilian Free-Tailed bat. Another clue was the distinctive musky odor emanating from the bat. I often get a whiff of the same scent near the bat house. Not obnoxious really, and definitely not fecal, just “pungent” for lack of a better term. The cats smelled it too, I’m sure since they were actively prowling just inside the glass door.
So what should you do if you encounter a bat? Well, if the individual is in a dwelling, then you may have to intervene. The flower pot (or bowl) and plate technique will work well indoors. Insectivore bats, like almost all bats in Florida, have very small teeth (bugs are crunchy, no incisors needed) so a pair of heavy gloves provides pretty good protection in the unlikely event that the bat actually takes a nip. Bat Conservation International has a great video showing how to humanely and safely capture and remove a bat from your dwelling.
Outdoors, I’d recommend leaving found bats alone. Most sick or injured bats aren’t rabid, but there is little point in taking chances. (This advice applies to foxes, racoons, skunks and loose pets as well). For more information about bats and rabies, please see this (pdf)
Activity in the bat house seems to be picking up again, and I’m hoping that I avoid anymore close encounters.