Bats are an important part of Florida's ecology. A single bat can eat thousands of insects each night. Unfortunately, bat populations are declining due to loss of habitat. You can build or purchase a bat house to help address that loss, providing these unique flying animals with a cozy place to roost and reproduce.
Some things to think about when buying or purchasing a bat house include the location of the bat house, the size, and the color of the bat house.
Choosing a Site
First you'll need to pick a site for your bat house. Choosing an open location will protect bats from predators, keep the internal temperature more constant, and make it easier for young bats to get in and out of the house. Light and noises can be disruptive to bats so be sure to mount it away from bright lights and human activity, preferably along a forest edge.
Hang the bat house twelve to fifteen feet above the ground on the south or southeast side of a freestanding pole. You can either use a pressure-treated 4x6-inch post or a metal pole to mount your bat house. Be sure you anchor your pole in the ground with concrete to help support the weight of the bat house and its occupants. Protect it from predators like snakes with a conical piece of flashing wrapped around the pole.
Size (and Color) Matter
Next, think about the size and color of your bat house; both play an important role in regulating the inside temperature. Most bats prefer houses with interior temperatures between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Larger bat houses and those with multiple chambers are often more successful, as they offer bats a variety of temperatures to choose from.
In North Florida, particularly in spots with limited sunlight, choose a dark brown or dark grey paint color. A bat house in South Florida that receives a lot of sun would be better off painted a light brown or a light grey color.
While you can put a bat house up at any time of the year, winter is the best time; bats are most likely to search for new roosts in early spring.
Guano and Safety
Remember that bat droppings (guano) will accumulate beneath the bat house; this is another good reason to select a somewhat remote location, where the presence—particularly the smell—of guano won't be bothersome. You can periodically scoop away guano and add it to a compost pile or use it as a fertilizer for plants. Remember, guano should always be collected with a shovel or scoop to avoid contact with the microorganisms living in the feces. Wearing gloves is also a good way to protect yourself. Another option is to place a container of some sort below the bat house to collect the guano and eliminate the need for scooping anything up.
Make sure any children who will be around your bat house know never to touch bats, or other wild animals for that matter. You will rarely find a healthy bat on the ground, so if you see one, it's probably ill. Call a local animal rehabilitation center or your County Animal Control.
Putting a bat house in your yard can be a fun way to provide a habitat to one of the five different bat species that might roost in a bat house here in Florida. Watching the bats come out at dusk can be quite a treat. With a little time, and depending on the size of your bat house, you may find your bat house provides a home to 100 or more bats!
Remember, the size of your bat house is very important; many pre-made houses on the market can be quite small by bat standards, so take the time to find one that is large enough to attract bats to your landscape.
For more information on building or purchasing your own bat house, read the EDIS publication Effective Bat Houses for Florida, visit Bat Conservation International's website for an article on installing a bat house, or contact your local county Extension office.