Each year, Wildlife Images takes in around 8-12 bats of various species. These little patients come to us for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they may be victims caught by outdoor cats, they can get stuck in sticky traps meant for insects, or may become injured as people renovate buildings and do not realize that there are bats in the roof or sides. During the winter months, the most common reason that a bat comes in is that it has woken up from hibernation. When a bat wakes up during the winter, it is very unlikely to survive. The reason for this is that there is no food for them this time of year. Most of the insects are gone and so if the bat remains awake it will not survive. If a bat tries to go back into hibernation it will not have enough reserves to sustain it and will likely not make it. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, simply waking up from hibernation will deplete its fat reserves for 10-30 days.
A rude awakening
Our first bat of the winter season came on December 20, 2018. Patient 18-1084 is a female Brazilian free-tailed bat. These bats are the ones known for living in huge colonies in caves in Texas and other southern states. In most parts of the country, these bats migrate south for the winter but in Oregon, they will find shelter in warm buildings and do not go into true hibernation. Patient 1084 was found struggling in a toilet at a warehouse in Medford! Luckily, the worker was able to rescue her and bring her to Wildlife Images. When she came in, she was barely moving and was cold but had no apparent injuries. She was placed in one of our incubators to warm up and she perked up quickly. She was given fluids, several feedings throughout the day, and an antibiotic to treat for possible pneumonia. Once we were confident that she was stable, we began the process of “training” her to eat in human care.
Getting enough food
Insectivorous bats are excellent predators; a single bat may consume up to 1,000 insects every hour! Their natural prey would be flying insects which are very hard to replicate while in a rehabilitation setting. At most rehab centers including Wildlife Images, we feed bats gut-loaded mealworms. This means that the mealworms are fed a high-quality diet before they are fed to the bats. In order to teach the bat how to eat a mealworm, we start off by restraining the bat and putting pieces of food in its mouth. The bat will quickly learn that this food source is tasty. The next step that we look for as we are feeding is that we want to see the bat lean into the food instead of trying to get away from the tweezers. Once they start to reach for the food, we know they are on the right path. After they have reached for it a few times we can start offering food in front of them while they are on the ground instead of being restrained. The last step is that we will put mealworms in a bowl for them and they will eat out of the bowl each night. The Brazilian free-tailed bat learned how to eat mealworms on her own out of a bowl in only 6 days. Now that she is doing well mostly on her own, we limit human activity around her as much as possible. We clean the enclosure as needed and she gets her fresh bowl of worms in the evening before staff goes home.
Our second bat patient arrived on January 31 of this year and he is a silver-haired bat (Patient 19-025). He came in from Ashland with a minor wing injury. The wing is healing well and we were very impressed to see that he learned to eat mealworms out of a bowl in less than 4 days! Both bats are doing very well and we will continue to care for them until it warms up and is safe for them to be released back to the wild.
If you find a bat
If you find a bat, do not touch it! Although it is very rare, bats may carry rabies. If you think you have been bitten or come in contact with a bat’s saliva, contact your doctor and public health official immediately. If you find an injured bat or if you find a bat that is awake during the winter months that shouldn’t be, contact Wildlife Images for advice on how to safely capture it and bring it in for treatment. Never handle a bat with your bare hands. For more information on bats and what you can do to keep them safe and help bat populations, check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s tips. https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/bats.asp