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Release Day for the Bats

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Don't you want me back in your bedroom? How about your attic? I don't poop that much.

I’d already made contact with the owners of the house where Stella was captured, asking them if there were a quiet nook on a porch where I might tape up the bats’ roosting towel, with the girls bundled inside, for the afternoon. As fate would have it, the stately old house was under renovation, every square inch of it being scraped and prepped for painting. It was a forest of ladders and scaffolds and exactly the wrong place to hang up a couple of sensitive bats. It is ever thus with bats, and chimney swifts, too...the places where they can live are always being screened or boarded up, or in this case, scraped and painted. Uh-oh. 

 I thought hard. Bill’s mom lived only two blocks away, and her house looks out on Camp Tupper, a beautiful Revolutionary War encampment that’s now a tree-studded park. 

The mound you see is an ancient Hopewell burial mound made in the shape of a turtle. The turtle's head is facing you with a willow oak planted about where its beak would be. Its legs splay out to the sides. Bill and I had our first kiss on the head of that turtle. There's something nice about that. The park is also great bat foraging habitat. 

On the wall of her board-fenced back courtyard is a wooden cabinet that houses a garden hose—the perfect sheltered spot to hang a couple of bats for the day.

 I taped up the folded towel inside the cabinet, put food and water beneath just as I did at home, then peeled it back for one last look at the girls. Their eyes glittered in the bright light and they huddled smaller as bats will when they’re suddenly exposed. I stroked their backs gently with a bare finger. The last couple of days, I’d allowed myself to feel their fur without a glove. I ran my finger over the surprisingly cool, translucent membranes of their tails. As daytime bats will, they stayed perfectly still.  Good bye, sweet bats. Good luck, Godspeed.

I propped the cabinet door open so it couldn’t blow shut, giving them easy egress from their hiding place, and placed a bowl of mealworms and one of water just below the towel where they’d be sure to find it before they launched into the free night air. 

Three months later, I’d done wrong by them and then somehow managed to make it right again. They’d taught me what I’d need to know to truly be of help to other bats going forward. And they would live to fly again, maybe even have their babies.

A check of the cabinet a week later showed that they'd been in such a hurry to get out and wheel among the trees and old houses surrounding Camp Tupper that they didn't even stop to eat. They were probably tired of mealworms, anyway, probably lusting for the feel of mothwing powder on their tongues.

A last look at the cabinet where my girls were waiting for nightfall.

What a joy they'd been. So much more than flying mice; they were more like tiny flying Chihuahuas in their intelligence and sensitivity.

I like insectivores.

You can redefine "soft" just touching their fur. It's so soft you can barely feel it.

From Barb Stewart: My husband John just said, "One phone call to Julie, and the illustrated chapters on natural wonders we could never have know about or even imagined just keep on rolling into our lives."

Barb and John, how Stella enriched my life I can't begin to tell. What some might view as a mere nuisance (a bat circling a bedroom, ack!) was to me a gift beyond price or measure. I loved that bat, fiercely, for the short few months she was given to me to care for. Most of all she was a teacher. Everything she did gave me a glimmer of insight as to how to care for her. The final goal here is to do right by bats that come to me in the future. My instinct tells me that it is not right to keep them at room temperature in the winter; my instinct tells me that it's not right to feed them all winter. What I'm looking for is a protocol that will be the closest imitation of what nature would provide them. And that will probably be quickly integrating foundling bats into an existing winter colony where they can sleep and commune with others as nature intended. I don't know whether I can find an accessible colony, or even whether that will work, but it's got to be better than what I'm doing here.

Thank you, Barb and John, for my impetuous blonde, who is even now probably hanging back in your attic, and flittering over Camp Tupper in the evening. I miss her and Mirabel so!!

May 14, 2012. My to-do list for that day said, "Pack for Alaska.  Pack Liam for Camp Hervida. Liam orthodontist 4:15. Check on chewed turtle at Campus Martius. Release bats. Depart for Columbus PM." Two of these things are not like the others...

Here ends the bat saga.


Thanks for sharing Stella & Mirabel's story with us! I've loved every chapter, and I'm sure everything you learned will help generations of bats to come!

"Flying Chihuahaus"... love it!! Don't ya wish you could know what memories of it all they carry around in their little brains...

They are more closely related to chihuahuas than rats.

Bats and carnivorans are Laurasiatheria.

Rodents (and primates, including humans) are Euarchontoglires.

We know very little about bat evolution. There are no transitional fossils between bats and "normal" mammals, except there is a 52 million-year-old bat fossil that has claws on on all five digits that would have held open the webbing to let make its wings.

Bats were a very early mammalian innovation and are one of the most successful mammalian orders.

Hello ..interesting pets. i live in the rural outskirts of marietta too and just saw a bobcat last night. nice to know that there is a creative naturalist in the area.

Posted by Anonymous June 15, 2012 at 7:41 AM

Such an anticlimactic ending to this dramatic series of posts!--but it's not really about the satisfying ending of dramatic narrative as it is about the beauty of a successful rehab, which means the little guys get to fly off in peace under cover of night...wonderful!

I so love this series and your stories about the bats.

BTW: bats are actually more closely related to chihuahuas than they are to mice. lol

Oh, what a wonderful, thrilling bunch of reportage, photos, video and poetry.Thank you for documenting so artfully why we must love those darling, winged beauties.
Good, good job. May they prosper!Love,xxoom.

Posted by Anonymous June 16, 2012 at 5:47 PM

What an incredible saga it has been for you and the bat sisters (and Benson, too!) Thanks for sharing their stories, and bringing us all to tears with the happy endings, for these travelers, at least.
miss weezie in Texas

Posted by Anonymous June 18, 2012 at 9:23 AM
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