How to - Wildlife

Give bats a home in your backyard

These oft-misunderstood creatures need help, especially from gardeners. Here's why you should give them a helping hand

Let’s dispel a few myths right off the bat: these mammals—not “flying rodents,” as they’re sometimes called—are not blind and, in fact, have excellent sight, but rely on echolocation (the use of high-frequency sounds) to communicate and to find prey. Bats seldom become aggressive (unless in self-defence), won’t get caught in your hair, and fewer than one per cent of them contract rabies. To put you more at ease, vampire bats are only found in South and Central Americas.

Of the more than 1,000 bat species worldwide, 22 are native to Canada. And while there are no pollinator bats in Canada, gardeners should champion those that do live here, because they’re insectivorous. These bats consume moths, beetles and mosquitoes, and can eat up to 500 mosquito-sized insects per hour. They also protect gardens and crops from such pests as cucumber beetles, cutworms and leafhoppers.

Unfortunately, bats are experiencing the same decline in population as pollinators, such as bees, throughout the world for many of the same reasons, including habitat loss. “Old buildings and hollow trees are just two of the favourite roosting sites for many of our bats,” advises Cindy Kam, small mammal keeper of the Calgary Zoo. “But old-growth forests and old buildings are being destroyed to meet the ever-growing demands of the human population.” Kam explains that this rampant development, combined with rapidly changing environmental conditions and a lack of understanding, results in dwindling bat populations.

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