Holy Bats Batman!
There’s no need to fire up the Batlight if you’re standing on or anywhere near Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge shortly before sunset, anytime between late March and early fall.
The bats will be there. No signal needed. Just a little patience.
Thousands of bats. Tens of thousands of bats. Hundreds of thousands of bats.
As many as 1.5 million bats.
For 40 years now, ever since they renovated the bridge back in 1980 the bats have been making it their home. And every night, during the warmer months of the year they come flying out in search of dinner.
The Congress Avenue Bridge bats have become quite the tourist attraction with hundreds of people gathering every night to see them.
There are a variety of locations from which you can choose for your viewing pleasure.
We stood on top of the bridge, leaning out over the railing. There’s a viewing platform on one bank, allowing you to see the bridge from below, people bring blankets and spread out on the opposite side, tour boats are available that dock in the middle of the river and you can even rent kayaks to venture out into the water on your own.
All those details are available on the Visit Austin website.
(All credit to Darling Daughter for taking the videos with her trusty phone. They're slowed down so you have a chance to actually see what the bats look like.)
The bats don’t wear watches so the specific time they appear will vary. Darling Daughter and I were there in late July, arrived around 8 p.m. to get a good spot at the railing, and it was probably an hour before they started showing themselves. That’s going to change depending on the time of year and how soon or late the sun is setting.
The little buggers like to tease, almost like they’re sending out scouts to test the winds. Less than a handful came flying out a couple of different times, everyone got excited, and then they disappeared. It was 15 minutes later before the action started.
It starts slowly, with a few beginning their journey, followed by more, and more, and then still more until there’s a long black cloud of them trailing on down the Colorado River.
It’s estimated they’ll eat between 10,000 and 30,000 pounds of insects, greatly reducing Austin’s mosquito population along the way.
(You can see the swarm of bats flying out in the distance, just above the trees, in the second half of these video clips.)
The Bat Scoop
The bats are Mexican free-tailed bats. They’re larger than the brown bats I typically see here in Iowa but are still described as being just a medium size. I’m not sure I’d want to see what they consider large ones.
They migrate north from Mexico early each year, that’s why you only see them around the bridge during warmer months.
Most of the Austin bats are female, and they give birth to just one bat in June.
The baby bats roost with other babies, separately from the mothers. To care for them, a mother has to find her own baby among the thousands. It’s believed that each has its own unique call.
If you want to party down while watching bats, you might think about attending Bat Fest, held the last Saturday in August with live bands, food, drink and even a costume contest.
I suspect there will be a Batman or two there then.
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