Building a home for bats

Photo: Gleannan Perrett

Want to cut down on the mosquitoes in your garden? Invite a bat into your yard by installing a safe and comfortable bat house. You can make constructing your bat house a fun family project.

Location, location, location

Often misunderstood and feared unnecessarily, bats play a vital role in the ecosystem and are a natural, efficient controller of insects. In one hour, an individual bat can catch hundreds of mosquitoes.

Being nocturnal, bats need a safe and quiet place to sleep during the day. While there are many different bat-house plans, location is important. Bats prefer tight, warm spaces, particularly in July when they have their young. Your bat house should be installed where it will receive plenty of direct sunlight but still be away from any bright lights. It should be at least four meters off the ground, preferably higher where there is a clear area so the bats can easily enter and exit their house.

Recommended materials
Bat Conservation International (BCI) recommends using only water-based paints and exterior-grade screws, hardware or staples when building your house. For building materials you can use plain, rough, pine boards or any other rough-sawn, untreated wood. The interior should be rough so the bats can grip it. If you use a board that is only rough-sawn on one side, make sure this side is the interior of the bat house. You can also create horizontal scratches or grooves about 13 mm apart and 1 mm deep. Weathered dark-grey wood is also an excellent choice since it absorbs the heat but you should avoid pressure-treated wood. A good house could also include two inside compartments and for additional protection, a hinged bottom floor that can be kept in place with a turn button.

Find your plan
Building a bat house is a simple enough project that your children will be able to help. The Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has an easy to follow bat house plan with assembly instructions available online.

The Carlsbad Cavern Park in New Mexico, home to hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats, has a do-it-yourself bat kit that will accommodate a large family of bats.

For enthusiasts, BCI has published the Bat House Builder's Handbook with updated bat-house research data plus new and improved bat-house designs and tips for success. The National Wildlife Federation has a step-by-step guide with photos for building the BCI single-chamber, wall-mounted bat house.

If you're not handy and would rather buy a bat house, you can pick up a nice sturdy one from Clean Air Gardening for about $39 USD.

Get your bat house hung and you may be fortunate enough to observe your furry, winged neighbour leave his home and fly around the yard a few times before heading off for a night of hunting bugs.

by Glenn Perrett
Glenn Perrett has a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo and writes for a number of publications including Sideroads, Muskoka Magazine and Harrowsmith Country Life.