You should be able to start seeing bats active at night, as they come out after their hibernation over the winter months looking for food. There are over 1000 species of bat in the world, but there are only eighteen (seventeen breeding in this country) species in the UK. Bats are the only flying mammal and the thin bones that form their wings are like the fingers on our hands, with skin stretched between each finger. They vary in size from the Greater Horse Shoe bat, with a wing span of 40cm to the Pipistrelles with a wing span of up to 23cm. It was only in 1990 that scientist realised there were two species of Pipistrelles bat (Common and Soprano), which can be told apart from their echolocation calls (the Soprano being the higher call). Bats have hair on their bodies, are warm blooded and usually have one pup a year (less than an inch in length), which suckles milk from its mother.
Bats have quite good eye sight, but use echolocation to find their way around in the dark and hunt for food. The frequency is too high for us to hear, but if you use a bat detector it changes the frequency into a sound we can hear. I can thoroughly recommend going on an organised bat walk where you can learn all about echolocation and listen to the bats catch their food. Listen out for the ‘raspberry’, which is when the bat catches its prey and the echoes are so close together it sounds like a raspberry being blown. UK Bats have a diet that consists of beetles, crane flies, moths, flying ants and other insects. They are so skilful at what they do; a Pipistrelle bat can catch up to 3000 insects in one night!
Although Pipistrelles are our most common bat in the UK, bat numbers in general are declining, mainly through loss of habitat, fragmentation of navigation routes and lack of roosting sites and food. You can help Give Nature a Home by planting your garden to help the bats in your area and provide the insect food they need. Try to incorporate flowers which vary in size and shape, colour and have single blooms which provide a better nectar source than double blooms, making them more attractive to insects. Plants that you can put in your garden to attract insects are: English Bluebell, Evening Primrose, Wallflowers, Primrose, Red Campion, Ice Plant, Corn Flower, Common Poppy, and Honesty to name but a few. There is more information on our web site, at the link below.
You can also put up a bat box or two, giving them a vital roosting site. You need to put boxes up as high as possible (under the eaves is perfect), but they can face any direction as the bats will move from box to box and chose the one they want to be in. Bats, like birds, are protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), but a bat roosting site is also protected under the law, unlike birds. So be careful where you put your bat box up, because you won’t be able to look in it or move it once it’s in place.
Bat box (RSPB Images)
Bats are a good indicator species, as their connection to the environment they live in shows how good it is at supporting them. For more information on these nocturnal creatures, take a look at our web page below. Please be aware; if you find a sick bat, please do not handle it but call the Bat Conservation Trust hotline on 0845 1300 228 for advice.
This year’s International Bat Night is on the 30th-31st August. Keep an eye on our events pages for bat walks on our reserves.