How to attract bats to your garden

Look out for bats in your local area and roosting in your house, and then provide feeding sites in your garden.

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How to attract bats to your garden article spread

It’s easy to forget that bats can be common in urban areas as well as in the countryside. It’s exciting to see them swooping over a pond catching insects on a summer evening, but what can you do to attract them to your garden?

Well, unfortunately, the truth is that your options are limited. Even if you have bats roosting in your house, all you will probably see is them spilling out at dusk and disappearing off to their feeding sites. As a consequence, you would do well to start looking for bats in your local area and then think about how to make your garden more appealing to them.

Bats like a diversity of habitats, particularly areas with mature trees and water, so wooded parks, canals and riverbanks are good places to start. Many species dislike flying across open areas, because they are very vulnerable to predation – it’s estimated that 11 per cent of all British bat deaths are due to birds of prey, so provide safe flyways through your neighbourhood with trees and overgrown hedges to increase the chances that bats will use your garden.

Remember, there are far more insects in the canopy than close to the ground, and it is here that bats feed – if you have space for trees, they will do more than anything to attract bats to your garden.

WHICH BATS ROOST IN URBAN AREAS?

  • While relatively few bat species forage in urban gardens, houses are popular roost sites. Both common and soprano pipistrelles roost in buildings in built-up areas. If you see them at all, they are likely to be flying into white street lights to catch insects or hawking over garden ponds.
     
  • Maternity roosts are usually on the south or south-west sides of buildings, presumably because these are the warmest places. Large pipistrelle maternity roosts can host several hundred bats.
     
  • Brown long-eared bats are the species most likely to use bat boxes, especially for breeding. They are easy to identify from their slow fluttering flight and the way they hover to pick insects off the leaves of garden trees. They are occasionally even seen fluttering outside windows, picking up insects attracted to the lights, and may hang up in the porches of houses to eat, leaving a pile of discarded wings and faeces.
     
  • Larger species such as Leisler’s bats and serotines sometimes breed in houses in urban areas, but generally they fly off to feed in nearby rural locations. However, both species can be seen hunting around white street lights, and Leisler’s sometimes forage along urban canals.
     
  • Other species of bats in urban areas rarely use gardens. Natterer’s bats will roost in large old houses, but forage in wooded parks and along canals and rivers. Daubenton’s bats are closely associated with still or slowmoving water, even in built-up areas. Bats skimming the surface of still water are likely to be this species.

7 FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT BATS IN GARDENS

  1. Bat boxes are used by brown long-eared bats, both to roost and breed. Place a few in your garden at different heights and facing different directions.
     
  2. Pipistrelles are most likely to breed in your house. They like cavity walls and spaces under the eaves in modern houses, so try not to block these off.
     
  3. Pipistrelles fly along walls, taller hedges (human height is good) and tree lines to minimise the risk of predation, so it is important to provide secure flyways to and from their roosts.
     
  4. White street lights attract clusters of insects, which are often exploited by pipistrelles. They can be seen flying through the pool of light to grab their prey.
     
  5. Mosquitoes may be annoying when you want to have a barbecue, but pipistrelles love to eat large numbers of them, along with other small insects.
     
  6. Brown long-eared bats use porches as feeding perches to eat larger prey. Look out for discarded moth wings and other insect remains on the ground.
     
  7. Droppings on a window sill or stuck to a wall are often the first sign that bats are using a house. They are easy to recognise from the finely chewed bits of insects.
 
EXPERT TOP TIPS FROM STEVE HARRIS: 
 
  • All 17 species of British bat have been recorded in houses and all can get through a gap just 20mm wide, so their entrance points are often difficult to locate and easy to block during routine maintenance. If you have bats roosting in your house, make sure you know their entrance points and seek advice from the bat conservation trust before starting any building work.
     
  • Smaller, slow-flying bats avoid open areas where they are vulnerable to birds of prey. Good tree cover in your garden will encourage species such as brown long-eared bats to forage, especially in fruit and other trees that attract moths and a variety of insects. If space allows, plant a diversity of trees with a small glade to provide a sheltered feeding area.
     
  • Finding bats in urban areas is not easy, and it’s better to get the experts to show you where you’ll see them. Join your local bat group and go on local bat walks. Once you have learnt the basics, it’s surprising how many bats you will spot, often well into a built-up area. Contact the Bat Conservation Trust for your local group.
     
  • Once you have been shown the basics, get your own bat detector; several good models are available. Identifying species of bats from their echolocation calls can be difficult, but bat detectors are very useful for helping you to spot bats that you would otherwise miss. Alana Ecology has a good range of bat detectors and provides excellent advice on its website.
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