How to Maintain Your Bat House
Tips for Maintaining You Bat House
Airtight seams. Inspect the bat house interior using a spotlight. If bats are present, wait until later in the season to do routine maintenance. Once during each winter the bat house should be inspected carefully for broken seams. Daily heating and cooling can cause roof seams to separate after a few years. Daylight entering around the roof is a sure sign of needed repair, but be careful not to mistake broken seals with normal daylight entering through the side vents. If left in disrepair, bats may abandon or never utilize a cold roost. A ladder can be placed against a post-mounted bat house in order to apply fresh roof repair sealant over all seams. Check to make sure the roofing paper and landing screen is intact. In addition, is a good idea to re-stain or paint the bat house every few years to prolong its life.
Wasp nests. Paper wasps form gray honeycomb shaped nests on the ceiling of bat houses (an example of this nest can be seen in the upper left corner of the bat house on the cover of this booklet). These insects are not aggressive and happily coexist with bats. Unfortunately the nests become large and eventually consume real estate inside the bat house. Remove nests in the winter using a long, thin rod or stick only when bats are not present. Check carefully before cleaning because shadows can hide solitary bats in what first seems to be an empty box.
Yellow jacket/Bald-faced Hornets. These very aggressive insects build conical nests that can be as large as a volleyball. Some stealthy varieties also build nests inside the bat house. If a number of bees are routinely entering and exiting the bat house in the summer, chances are it is overrun with yellow jackets. Bats will abandon the bat house if these insects take up residence. Destroy these nests early before they become large. Carefully knock out nests at night or in winter when insects are less aggressive. A carefully directed spray application followed by a generous water rinsing may successfully kill the insects and minimize the chance of passing the poison to bats. People sensitive to bees should avoid this, as a single yellow jacket will sting multiple times.
Woodpeckers. These birds have rarely been observed drumming on bat houses. The damage can be repaired by filling holes with roofing sealant when bats are not present.
Shredded screen. If you purchased or built a bat house that incorporated low quality screen covering the interior partitions, it may be shredded over time. At worst, bats may be getting trapped under parts of the screen. It may be possibly to scratch the interior without taking apart the bat house, but it may be far easier to simply replace it with a modern design.
Bat inventory. Bats can be inventoried two ways. The most direct approach is to stand under the bat house and view the interior using a powerful spotlight (figure 14). This should be done very sparingly throughout the first season of occupation. A less intrusive technique is to watch the evening exit, which begins approximately 15 minutes after your local sunset and lasts about thirty minutes.
Overcrowding and overheating. If bats are constantly seen towards the bottom of the bat house throughout the season or are on the exterior, it may be too hot. This is best solved by installing a second bat house nearby or on the backside of the original. Alternately the bat house might need “tuned” to your specific location, perhaps by adding white roofing paper, repainting the box a lighter shade, or moving the box to a different location. Unless other roosts are already in use nearby, tuning a single bat house is experimental not recommended. Add a second box first then experiment later if necessary.
Warped baffles. The shell of the bat house should outlast the interior baffles. Over a period of time and usage, baffles may become warped. Bats will continue to use the box but capacity may be reduced. It will be difficult to directly inventory the bats. This generally is not an issue with modern BCM products as we use yellow pine plywood which is much more resistant to warping than inexpensive Luan plywood.
Guano. Modern bat houses are thankfully self-cleaning. Droppings accumulate on the ground directly under the bat house. This material naturally biodegrades and there is not much need to remove it.
Overheating or downed bats. Generally it is had to overheat a bat roost, but it can happen. Bats seen flying during daytime hours do not constitute a health hazard. Bats may occasionally be visible during daylight hours because of an unusual disturbance. This includes but certainly is not limited to burning leaves, loud lawn mowers, chainsaws, children, or cats. Bats may also appear simply to get a drink.
Bats cannot be held as pets. They are difficult to keep in captivity and therefore relatively few people are properly licensed to hold them for any length of time. With any wild animal, they should not be handled without protection. Should a grounded bat be found (usually the pet cat finds it) gloves should be worn to dispose of it. A grounded pup has little chance for survival. If there was any chance the animal was in contact with humans, contact your local wildlife management or public health agency, though the only suggestion they legally will have is to begin rabies post-exposure treatment. Please see [more on human health considerations] and [more on bats and rabies.] Although a bat may have only one pup a year, overcrowding may occur. If your box contains more than 100 bats, watch for grounded pups under the bat box. If more than one or two a year appear, this means the box is either (1) too hot due to overcrowding, (2) getting too much heat, or (3) both problems. Another sign of heat stress occurs when the bats utilize the cooler, lower portion of the box even on mild afternoons. The simplest solution is to install an additional bat house within several hundred feet of the first. If pole mounted, a second box can be installed on the backside of the first, offering a range of roost selection. A more risky solution is to move the box to a slightly more afternoon shaded site. Given how particular bats are about their roosts, BCM recommends installing a second box.
If you are looking for a quality bat house built right, please see BCM's own models including long lasting plastic shelled variants.
Need help installing a bat house? We can help you microsite your bat house so it is good for both you and bats, and handle all the install details.
- John Chenger