City Living

Updated: Just a Bat Beating the Odds in the Big City

Washington, D.C. Bat

That little black smudge? It's alive. (Bigger picture after the jump.) Bill Chappell hide caption

itoggle caption Bill Chappell

There is something exciting about spotting a wild critter in the city. Since moving to Washington four years ago, I've walked past raccoons and biked past more than a dozen deer in Rock Creek Park.

So I was just beaming last month, when I saw my new favorite urban animal: a furry little bat who lives downtown between Congress and the White House.

When I first saw him, he looked like the waste bolus an owl might cough up after digesting a rat: a little cylinder of fur, with random signs of bones and feet. The whole thing was nestled in a building's crevice, about three feet off the ground.

Then I saw the silk of a wing, and the pointy little ears, and realized I was looking at a bat that could probably hide in my hand. (Click for larger pic UPDATE: Tennessee scientist ID's bat/ Video of the bat/ Name NPR's pet bat)

I could barely process what I was seeing. Don't bats hang out in huge groups? If you were a small bat like this, wouldn't you do two things: 1) find some friends; 2) roost a little higher off the ground, so cockamamie people can't just kill you on a whim while you sleep all day?

Day after day, I see him in the same spot, happy that he's safe and sleeping. He's not dead; I poked him once and he kind of looked up, like, "Not now, man." You could almost hear him groaning. (Later, somebody told me, "You're not supposed to do that.")

I wonder if his family will take him back — and if maybe he doesn't want to go back, darn it. He may just be an independent-minded bat. As you can see, I'm into back-stories.

Someone told me a group of bats is called a "cloud," like a parliament of owls, a float of crocodiles, etc. So does that make this guy a droplet?



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Dude, didn't your mother teach you to never poke a bat? It might poke you back.

Sent by andy carvin, npr | 9:23 AM | 12-10-2007

It looks like a hoary bat to me, given the grayish fur and smallish ears. These are solitary bats, so it makes sense that you would see it by itself. However, these bats are usually seen in dense forest, so it is a little unusual to see one in an urban area.

Sent by ajk | 10:19 AM | 12-10-2007

Silver-haired bat (Laysionycteris noctivgans)passing through to the coast on his/her way to Dixie for the winter.

Sent by xyz | 12:47 PM | 12-10-2007

I loved this story and the pictures.
We are so pitifully out of touch with the natural world now that this morsel was most refreshing. I hope the bat continues to be safe.

Sent by Virginia A. Davis | 1:40 PM | 12-10-2007

Glad to know that this little critter is safe and has someone watching out for him.

Sent by Carrie | 2:18 PM | 12-10-2007

Yeah, I lean toward thinking it's a silver-haired bat, too.

But it's been hanging out for about a month now, that I've noticed. And aren't silver-hairs supposed to migrate?

I should have mentioned, too, that I'm not the only fan of the bat. I've talked to other people who have noticed him/her, and have been a little surprised how excited they are about it.

Now my coworker tells me we can get a bat-house?

Sent by Bill Chappell, npr | 3:02 PM | 12-10-2007

I agree - I hope people have enough sense to leave him be. We get to see so little of nature it's a nice gift.

Sent by Linda | 3:08 PM | 12-10-2007

I love this story. It seemed like an unusual spot for a bat to seek refuge to me too so I looked up some information on the little guy. This is a small portion of my findings on silver-haired bats : "Silver-haired bats prefer temperate, northern hardwoods with ponds or streams nearby. The typical day roost for the bat is behind loose tree bark. Silver-haired bats appear to be particularly fond of willow, maple and ash trees (most likely due to the deeply fissured bark). Hollow snags and bird nests also provide daytime roosting areas for silver-haired bats. Less common daytime roosts include buildings, such as open sheds and garages; however, due to their solitary nature and adaptation to woodland roosts, these bats rarely invade buildings in large enough numbers to cause alarm. During the winter months, silver-haired bats that hibernate find shelter in northern areas inside trees, buildings, rock crevices, and similar protected structures."

Sent by Carrie Molina | 3:35 PM | 12-10-2007

Bat Conservation International has lots of pictures of bats on its website . . .fun to look at and very educational. Bat boxes can usually be gotten at your local Division of Wildlife office (or similar agency)

Sent by Peggy Care | 6:18 PM | 12-10-2007

I agree with the hoary bat. The nose and small ears, can't see the distinguishing characteristic of the yellow fur at the neck, but I still think its Hoary and not Silver. I also mistyped my name last go around.

Sent by Peggy Carey | 6:44 PM | 12-10-2007

A really good read about a different kind of bat is called the Bat Poet by Randall Jarrel. It will help everyone to feel closer to bats and consider differently just why it might be hanging out in the city.

Sent by Mary | 8:14 PM | 12-10-2007


Sent by twahl | 10:19 PM | 12-10-2007

The little bat photo and story is a heart opener. I do share the primary concern with the others for the little fellas safety. someone will feel the need to intervene, as is so predictable, and little bat boy might need to flee. Please, keep him safe until he is ready to fly away to safer environs! Enjoy him, he makes the struggle of it all a bit more worth it!

Sent by Balenda | 11:22 PM | 12-10-2007

Maybe he's slightly ill and needs to refuel before migrating. I took a Mexican Free-Tail bat away from my two cats last year and I ended up being bitten. The bat tested positive for rabies and I had to had rabies shots (no longer given in the stomach). Austin has a bat rescue team and there may be one in your area too. Check out BUT whatever you do even if you are well meaning, don't touch the bat!

Sent by Theresa | 12:09 PM | 12-11-2007

I suggest contacting a qualified local wildlife rehab center before someone decides to "help." Rehabbers are trained to safely capture it, check its health, and help relocate it to a safer location if necessary.

Sent by Karen | 12:21 PM | 12-11-2007

I live in a rural area in North Carolina and on warm evenings at dusk the bats come out to feed on mosquitos and other bugs. It's really cool to watch them swoop and turn as they fly and feed. They constantly flap their wings unlike birds. They will come quite close to humans but I've never seen any one of them attack a person, they're just after the bugs.

I really hope some idiot doesn't come along and harm this little guy. Bats do a lot of good and should be respected like any other animal.

Good luck little guy!

Sent by Julie | 2:06 PM | 12-11-2007

Your bat is a silver-haired. I was lucky enough to take a Bat Conservation International Bat Ecology course last spring. We caught both hoary and silver-haired. I have photos of both clearly showing the difference. I can't seem to attach a photo to this message, but if you would like to post them, please email me. I thought your readers/listeners might like to see the difference.
Lynn Havsall
Director of Programs
Dorr Museum of Natural History
College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, Maine

Sent by Lynn Havsall | 3:46 PM | 12-11-2007

I am trained in wildlife rescue. It is likely that if someone called a local agency, they would be told "Leave it alone." Bats do carry rabies, and even their fecal matter is contaminated. Further, natural selection requires that ill or elderly animals be selected against in order to produce a healthy reproducing population. In all likelihood the little bat is fine. Unless someone hurts it, it will eventually do what it needs to do to survive. Street lights provide a wonderful hunting opportunity for bats, so it may be content just to stay where it is.

Sent by Peggy Carey | 3:50 PM | 12-11-2007

I am wondering too if global warming isn't affecting migration patterns. Maybe it's not cold enough for him to go south yet. I have no science on hand to back up the idea, but it makes sense to me that GW would impact migration patterns. Just a thought.

Sent by linda | 4:31 PM | 12-11-2007

Maybe this little bat can be for Washington what the hawks are for New York. Thanks for caring about him, and keep us all posted!

Sent by Janet | 1:10 PM | 12-12-2007

This is a Hoary Bat. Having done my essay on Hoary Bat for the Topanga Canyon Docents Program,, I know the silver tipped fur belongs to that bat. Lasiurus Cinereus is the latin name. Keep him safe, Merry Christmas!

Sent by "Merry" Anne Thomas | 5:05 PM | 12-12-2007

I worked in a cave for 4 years, and we had pipistrlus subflavus (eastern pipistrelle). They are the cutest critters. One slept in a little hole in the cave wall about an inch wide all winter. By the way, bats have less incidents of rabies than people.

Sent by Gary Haman | 12:55 PM | 12-13-2007