Caring for bats
Bats have a very sophisticated system for finding their way around in the dark, but, despite this, some do end up getting trapped inside buildings. This happens most often between mid-July and mid-August, when baby bats are learning to fly, and they are inexperienced in using their newly-developed echolocation skills. This means that when they are finding their way back to the roost after hunting, they might crawl through the wrong gap or through an open window, especially if this window is beneath the roost entrance; they will then find themselves inside the house, rather than in the roof. Bats are very small and need only a very small space in order to gain access, so sometimes it can be very hard to tell how a bat got in.
NEVER try to catch a flying bat - you are likely to injure it severely and it may even bite in self-defence.
So what do you do? If it's a warm evening, the best course of action is to close the door to the room, and to open the windows to the outside as widely as possible, dim the lights and give the bat the chance to find its own way out. Bats navigate by sending out high-pitched sounds and listening for the echoes, so the bat should soon detect any opening that leads out of the room. If it does not find its way out, it will roost somewhere in the room when it becomes light, and will appear again the following evening, at dusk. If you wish to search the room to ensure the bat has gone, the best places to look are in the folds of curtains and behind picture frames, and other places that are high up, where the bat can roost, out of the light. However, bats have been found hanging from the tassels at the bottom of an armchair, so do check at a lower level, as well.
At all other times, such as during daylight hours or during the winter, wait until the bat lands. Sometimes young bats, which are inexperienced flyers, will become exhausted before finding the way out. They may try to land on a wall or curtains, or they may crash-land on furniture or the floor. In this case, you should contain the bat and then release it in the evening.
To contain a bat:
Place a box (which should be shoe box or ice cream tub-sized) over the bat and slide a piece of cardboard under the box to make the floor of the container. If this is not practical, then put on a pair of thick protective gloves and pick up the bat and put it in the box. It is recommended that people wear thick gloves to handle bats because there is a tiny risk of some bats in Britain carrying a rabies-related virus, which could be transmitted through a bite or a scratch. Bats are not vicious, but a frightened wild animal may become distressed and bite.
Put a piece of cloth, such as an old tea towel, loosely crumpled, in one corner of the box. The bat will feel safer if it has something to crawl into and hide. Put a few small air holes into the lid and a very shallow container (such as a foil milk bottle top) of water in one corner, so the bat can have a drink.
To release a bat:
When releasing the bat, you should wait until dusk, or as near to that time as possible. It should be a warm, dry night. Place the box on its side, so the bat can crawl straight out. Bats need to drop and swoop to become airborne, so the box should be on the top of a wall or on a shed roof, at least five feet off the ground, as near as possible to where the bat was found. It should be placed somewhere safe from predators. The bat can then crawl out of the box and fly away, when it is ready.
If the bat does not fly away within 2 hours, it might need further attention, so take it back inside, as it will need to be passed on to a bat rehabilitator. If you pass the bat on to a bat rehabilitator, it is important to, also, pass on details of who found the bat, where and in what circumstances it was found.
Firstly – are you sure it’s a baby? Bats are, generally, very small!
Baby bats are usually born in June. They are very small and have little fur. When their mothers go out to feed in the evening, the unsupervised babies sometimes end up in strange places in the house, such as the kitchen sink or shower, as they are small enough to fall down tiny cracks next to pipes or between floorboards. If you do find a baby bat, you must get expert help as quickly as possible. There may be a bat rehabilitator near you who can assist. Please, call for advice.
A bat found on the ground during daylight hours is likely to be in trouble, already. Wearing thick gloves and using a soft cloth, pick the bat up, gently. Put the bat into a small ventilated box, and bring it to the Wildlife Aid Foundation or your local centre, for examination. Please, make a note of exactly where you found it, so that we can release it back to the exact location, when it is fully fit.
Bats are gentle creatures and seldom show any aggression, but they are wild animals and may be frightened or in pain. You must take care not to be bitten, so wear thick protective gloves and handle the bat as little as possible. Most of the UK's bats have such small teeth that a bite will not break the skin. However, a strain of the rabies virus has been found in a small number of British bats, so, although the risk is very small, you must take precautions to avoid being bitten or scratched.
If the bat is out of the way of passers-by and cats, then it is best to leave it where it is. Sometimes bats do roost in the open air, especially in the mating season, during the autumn. However, if the bat is somewhere where it could be in danger, please, contact your local bat group. Bats do sometimes die hanging on walls. Their legs are constructed in such a way that they will not lose their grip when they are relaxed – so, if it has been there for a number of days, this might be what has happened. Again, please, contact your local bat group.
A small number of bats in the UK have been found to carry EBLV, a rabies-like virus. If you have been bitten, seek immediate medical advice. Contain the bat so that it may be collected and assessed by a bat worker. Bats can squeeze through very small spaces, so keep it in a well-sealed container with adequate ventilation holes, a piece of cloth to hide in, and a shallow container of water for the bat to drink from. Make sure you avoid getting bitten again by wearing gloves or using a cloth to handle the bat. Contact the Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228, so they can arrange for the bat to be collected and identified. Alternatively, contact your local wildlife or bat rescue centre for advice.
All bats are a protected species, by law, and it is illegal to kill, injure or take a wild bat, or intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to a bat roost. Just think of all the insects they eat every night and how many more mosquito bites you would suffer if your bats weren't there!
If you are worried about having bats, or want to know how to move them on, it’s best to get in touch with your local bat group (Surrey Bat Group, in our case) or the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) 0845 1300 228, who will send out a licensed bat handler to assess the situation. Although bats do have legal protection, the law does not expect people to co-exist with bats in the living area (i.e. bedrooms, sitting room, etc.). Please, don’t be afraid to contact a bat group or BCT for fear of their putting the rights of bats above those of humans. BCT works to ensure people and bats can live together in harmony, and are there to provide advice, guidance and information.
Although bats are nocturnal creatures, they do sometimes emerge to hunt for insects, during the day. This is more common on mild winter days or during the early spring, when bats wake naturally from hibernation and come out to stock up their reserves and hunt insects that may also have emerged because of the mild weather. After this, they go back to their hibernation site to sleep until the next mild spell. If the weather is very bad, then bats will not go out at night to feed; so, if there has been a period of bad weather, bats will sometimes risk hunting during the day, in order to get enough food.
Bats and their roosts are protected by law. This means, if work needs to be done to any building that is known to contain a bat roost, or that may contain a bat roost, the relevant statutory nature conservation organisation (SNCO) must be contacted, in advance, for advice. If bats are discovered during work, then the work must stop, immediately, until the relevant SNCO has been contacted and advice given. It is also important to seek advice if you need to treat timber in the roof of a known bat roost.
Surrey Bat Rescue: 24 hour help & advice line: 07910 108525
Surrey Bat Group: 01276 22574
Bat Conservation Trust (local): 01932 842636
Bat Conservation Trust (national): 0845 130 0228 / www.bats.org.uk