Photo by Eddie Rod

Where Are The Bats?

Depending on what time of the year you come to visit Austin, you may find one of the largest natural attractions that Austin has to offer. The South Congress Bridge Bats.
Every year, from March to early November, Austin becomes home to millions of Mexican Free-Tailed bats (Official flying mammal of Texas). These bats are pretty small, measuring in average at 3.5 inches, and weighing roughly 12 grams.

When Do They Fly?

Every summer night between 7 PM and 8 PM the bats will leave the bridge to eat. During mid-April and May, the bats are getting ready to give birth, so you will catch them as the sun starts to set. Finally, in early June, they will give birth. Which means that most of these bats will not leave to hunt as early as they did in the previous weeks. But in late July and early August, after the nursing period ends, the young bats will leave the cave on their own to hunt along with their families. This is known as the peak season since roughly 1.5 million bats will emerge.

Photo credit: Eddie Rod

Why Austin?

In March, when the bats are first migrating to Austin, roughly 750,000 bats will make the bridge their home. But when the bridge was built in the early 1900s, none of the residents ever imagined that it would become one the largest bat colonies in the United States.
In fact, when the bats first emerged in the city, they would gestate in caves along the Colorado River. There were countless attempts to kill the bats. Mostly because people were scared that they would bring diseases.
It wasn’t until local farmers noticed their crops were yielding more. The reason for that, the bats were eating the pests that would eat the crops. Not only that, but farmers were now using fewer pesticides on their farms. But the real game changer happened in the mid-1930s when construction of the dams ended up flooding their caves, and the bats moved to other places such as the Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas.
The school responded by sealing the cracks in the stadium, and even hiring people to use cyanide gas to kill them. Things didn’t change until the mid-1980s when renovations to the South Congress Bridge finished. Since the enlargement of the piers, and the widening of the decks along with the replacement of the substructure with steel beams. This created the perfect place for the bats to call home. The crevices on the bridge were big enough for bats to enter and small enough that none of their natural predators could enter. Not only that, but it also provided the perfect temperature and humidity conditions for the mothers during gestation season.

 

Where To Watch Them?

Since this is one of the largest natural attractions Austin has to offer. You should be prepared and arrive early if you want to have a spot at the bridge. The bats attract over 100,000 people every summer and the bridge will be full from end to end most nights.
Keep in mind that along the river-walk there are several places such as Lone Star Riverboat, where they’ll give you a nice tour, and it’s BYOB!

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_free-tailed_bat
https://austinot.com/guide-bat-season-in-austin
https://sustainablefoodcenter.org/latest/gardening/austins-bat-history-and-the-benefits-of-bats-to-food-gardeners

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