Bat Winters in D.C., to Delight of Urban Dwellers In this week's Science out of the Box segment, host Andrea Seabrook gets out of the NPR building in Washington, D.C., to rescue a bat that has taken up residence across the street. Why would this urban habitat suit a wild creature?
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Bat Winters in D.C., to Delight of Urban Dwellers

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Bat Winters in D.C., to Delight of Urban Dwellers

Bat Winters in D.C., to Delight of Urban Dwellers

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

This week, we're taking science not just out of the box but out of NPR altogether. This week, we went across the street to visit a bat that's taken up residence in a nearby office building.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: NPR staffers spotted the bat, a few weeks ago, nestled into a crack in the side of the building right next to a busy bus stop. And we were all wondering what was this little bat doing all by itself in downtown Washington, D.C. So I invited bat expert Leslie Sturges just to come have a look at the NPR bat.

I have to ask you, is this a very good place for a bat to be?

Ms. LESLIE STURGES (Director, Bat World NOVA Sanctuary): Well, it depends on whose perspective you're looking at it from. The bat undoubtedly thinks that he found himself a nice rock crevice.


Ms. STURGES: And because he's a bat, he's not thinking traffic, travels, people, predators. So, for him, it's probably doing what he needs it to do to allow him to go into a torpor hibernation and stay there.

SEABROOK: Because it's cold out here.

Ms. STURGES: It's cold.

SEABROOK: It's like 30 degrees out here. We're about to be hit by a giant winter storm.

Ms. STURGES: Exactly. So two things could happen for him. He could decide that it's way too cold and he moves on.


Ms. STURGES: Or he could just actually go into torpor and not wake up if conditions get too severe for him. So the question I have is not so much why is he here but is he okay.

SEABROOK: Is he okay here. So why don't you take a look at him? What kind of bat is this?

Ms. STURGES: Well, this is a silver-haired bat. This is a migratory bat. These guys don't live here in the summer. They actually migrate in from the west or from the north and then they spend the winters here because, believe it or not, our winters are probably balmy for them.


Ms. STURGES: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Well, let me describe it here a little bit more. This bat is so small it's like bigger than a mouse, smaller than a gerbil. It's tucked into this crevice. It looks like it could be dead or something. Do you think it's dead?

Ms. STURGES: Well, I'm actually going to bother it a little bit because I don't like the way its hair is flying. That's not the look of a healthy bat. It is the look of a bat who's sound asleep in a windy corner. So…

SEABROOK: Yeah. The hair almost look - it looks massed up as if it had been what - mouthed by a cat or something.

Ms. STURGES: Yeah. And that's not quite right. So I'm concerned for its health. So I'm actually going to reach in here and see what I can do with him.

SEABROOK: Okay. You're reaching forward.

Ms. STURGES: And I'm wearing gloves.

SEABROOK: You're wearing a glove. You don't want to get bitten by it.

Ms. STURGES: I don't want to get bitten. And…

SEABROOK: Oh, it's moving. Oh, it's moving.

Ms. STURGES: Yes. He's - and see how he's in slow motion? That's his defensive…

SEABROOK: God, he's hissing at you. Okay, she's - Leslie has picked up the bat. It is in her hands. It's stretching out its wings. Got his mouth wide open and it's clicking and hissing.

Ms. STURGES: See how everything it's doing is in slow motion?


Ms. STURGES: That's because he's in torpor. His body temperature is cold.

SEABROOK: Reaching out its wings.

Ms. STURGES: Oop, I beg your pardon. She.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Oh, she. You've turned her over and figured out that he is a she. Well, let me ask you, why is there a bat alone here in this little crevice?

Ms. STURGES: This is what we refer to as a semi-solitary species.


Ms. STURGES: They roost in small maternity colonies in the summer when they have their pups (unintelligible).

SEABROOK: (Unintelligible) the bats flying out of the cave at night.

Ms. STURGES: In this particular species, you would never see that.


Ms. STURGES: You would have just a very small few individuals in a tree cavity or something like that.


Ms. STURGES: So yeah, I get these calls about this fairly often in the winter. And when I find - hear about them in the winter. They're almost always alone.

I'm worried about her ears. Her ears shouldn't be that curved.

SEABROOK: Oh, the other sort of got curled up.

Ms. STURGES: Yeah. So I do think she's got a little bit of frostbite damage. So I think what I'm going to do is get her into rehab. You know, I'm wildlife rehabilitator. I'm permitted and everything. So I want to make sure that she's actually okay.

SEABROOK: Yeah. And then you'll release her somewhere?

Ms. STURGES: I am going to release her. If she's fine, if there's nothing wrong with her and I fattened her up a little bit, she - and I'll make sure those ears aren't really damaged damaged - the next relatively warm night. And I will actually bring her back to a little bit safer area and let her go here in town because she knows where she is.

SEABROOK: Sturges slips a little folding shelter - kind of like a small tent - out of her pocket. The bat is clinging fiercely to her mitten and it can't be taken off. So she slides the mitten off and puts it all with the bat into the little shelter.

Ms. STURGES: This is amazing because this is a migratory bat that you're not going to see in the summer out flying in the sky. So even if you look up, all these bats flipping around in summer are not silver-haired bats around here. So this is like kind of a - it's like a little treasure here in the city to have it, you know? And here she is. And this is like great documentation that wildlife is using the city. And a lot of people forget that this is habitat. I just think it's really cool that she's here.

SEABROOK: Leslie Sturges just runs the Bat World NOVA Sanctuary in Northern Virginia. There, she determined that our bat was suffering not from frostbite but from severe dehydration. The bat is now doing well and enjoying all the meal worms she can eat. You can see our NPR bat and find out the results of a bat naming contest at

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