Long summer nights are one of the reasons we put up with Pacific Northwest’s dreary winters. Nothing is better than a cool evening in the park. Plus, this time of year, when we recline the grass and look to the sky during dusk, we get the added treat of seeing bats. Now, that last statement may not be exactly what you expected, let alone one you wholeheartedly agree with, but I’d like you to take a moment and appreciate Capitol Hill’s bats.
Possibly you’ll never appreciate their bizarre visages, but at the very least appreciate the work they do for us. Bats may be our best natural defense against many of our pest insects, gobbling them up efficiently during much of the night. When we see bats cruising overhead or over the water, they’re hunting using echolocation, which may be obvious but is a feat unto itself. Being insectivorous isn’t merely a nice thing for mosquito free evenings either. The US Geological Survey reports that they provide an agricultural service of pest removal of up to $53 billion (that, however, is the high estimate).
If you think that sounds good, you can give bats a place to live in your yard. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has good information on how to build a bat box (unbeknownst to you your house may already serve as roost). If you have adjacent water and good exposure to the sun (bats need hot places to shack up), you could attracted some winged ones to gobble up insects. While you’re at it, throw a bucket under there, as bat guano is an excellent fertilzer.
All that being said, I believe that we go overboard with trying to validate an appreciation of nature by explaining what they do for us. Stepping away from that, bats still tend to be one of the more amazing animals we have in the inner city. Despite being such small animals, which we usually associate with short life spans, bats are long lived. Our more common species, the little brown miotis, has been recorded at up to 34 years old.
Bats are also social creatures, raising young in large maternity roosts of all female bats where mothers have to find their young amongst the clamor of hundreds of voices. A final, favorite fact I’ve always appreciated, is that bats are quite good swimmers; on their forays over water to hunt, they occasionally take dip and have to get themselves out. The mental image of a bat swimming makes me smile.
One would expect bats to be difficult to see in an urban area, but in Capitol Hill and the rest of Seattle, there’s quite a few places where they frequent. If you are a bat, and most likely a little brown miotis (Myotis lucifugus) or big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) our most common species, you’d find plenty of places around the Hill to frequent. Possibly not in the heart of Pike or Pine (though I have seen them there), but certainly on the outer edges like Volunteer Park or in our many greenbelts.
Concerns about bats carrying rabies aren’t unwarranted but it’s unlikely you’ll encounter one that is a carrier. A very small percentage, probably less than a tenth of one percent, are actual carriers and normally behaving bats aren’t typically a threat (if you do find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it, and contact the King County Department of Health). However, bats do not want to get caught in your hair — unlike being potential rabies vectors, that concern is absolute myth.
In reality, bats need our help. With the increase in insecticide and decline of habitat, we can help them by building bat boxes and keeping our gardens organic. There’s been a worldwide decline in bat populations, which would be bad news for our agriculture and our simple enjoyment amazing animals too. So, next time you see bats looping through the air, think of all the mosquitos they are eating and the fact they might just be older than you.
Previously in Pikes/Pines
- Flowering Capitol Hill
- Another Mediterranean summer on Capitol Hill
- The feathered growing pains of spring