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Bats and Bridges in Austin

February 20, 2015
Bat Statue, Austin TX (c) MMD

Bat Statue, Austin TX (c) MMD

 

Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin TX (c) MMD

Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin TX (c) MMD

I was in Austin, Texas last weekend and stayed at a hotel just across from the Congress Avenue Bridge. In urban wildlife circles, this bridge is famous for its summer inhabitants — a large (1.5 million bats!) maternity colony of Mexican free-tailed bats.

Although the bats weren’t in residence, we walked down to the bat viewing area one afternoon to take a look. Surprisingly, the bridge was still an attraction, even without the bats! People were standing around peering up at the bridge, hanging out in the information area, and reading all about these amazing animals. It was great to see.

Although the bats are now a big tourist attraction in Austin, there was a time when they were feared and despised. After a bridge renovation in 1980 led to a growth in their population (the new bridge made for perfect bat roosting sites), many in the city became concerned about their presence. Bat Conservation International’s founder Merlin Tuttle moved to Austin, seeing this as a great opportunity for education and outreach on the importance of bats to a healthy ecosystem. In the end, the city embraced the bats, even naming their (now defunct) minor league hockey team the “Ice Bats.” Bats show up repeatedly throughout the city, in art, in tourist souvenirs, and in local restaurants. It’s quite the PR turn-around!

Many bat species make use of bridges and other man-made structures, as their natural roosting sites have given way to human development. Because of this, efforts like those in Austin to both protect bats and work with humans to increase the chances of coexistence are vital, especially as many species face new threats such as white-nose syndrome.

People looking at the Congress Avenue Bridge, (c) MMD

People looking at the Congress Avenue Bridge, (c) MMD

 

Bat viewing site, (c) MMD

Bat viewing site, (c) MMD

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