Winter Bat Sightings – What you can do!

Posted January 26, 2021 by Vindi Sekhon

Every year, Wildlife Rescue provides care to bats of various bat species including the Silver-Haired Bat, Hoary Bat, Little Brown Bat, Yuma bats and the Big Brown Bat. Bats are the second-largest group of mammals in the world and are found everywhere – on every continent (except Antarctica), and in a large variety of ecosystems including deserts, isolated islands, and even polar regions.

Bats can live in a variety of habitats including deserts, woodlands, caves, suburban communities, and cities. Because they are nocturnal, they hunt at night and roost during the day. Bats play an important role in our environment directly and behind-the-scenes. Bats help pollinate plants and at night they act as “pest control agents” eating thousands of mosquitoes and other insects in an hour.

This year, winter bat sighting is on the rise and Wildlife Rescue is encouraging the public and communities to be alert and safe when witnessing abnormal bat activity in your local communities.

The BC BAT Program suspects the winter bat sighting may be a result of WNS, a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome that grows on bats and causes them to wake up from their hibernation causing them to burn their fat and energy stores. It then leads them to act abnormal and search for food water to replenish fat reserves to continue their hibernation. Sadly, this abnormal behavior puts stress on their bodies and the normal food sources can be depleted in the winter and bats die due to dehydration, starvation, and other stressors.

If you witness abnormal behavior that includes the bat being grounded, hitting objects, difficulty flying, high-pitched sounds please contact the BC BAT Program here or by phoning 1-855-922-2287 ext. 23. The proper assessment of bats provides key information to track the spread of white-nose syndrome and keep humans and bats safe.

Remember some sightings are common and do not require human intervention. Bats may be seen on warm winter evenings. Healthy bats may wake up to drink or even eat if insects are active. Some species of bats are naturally active during the winter.  Bats may also become active following a disturbance near their hibernation site.

If you come across a dead or weak bat it is important to keep yourself and the bat safe especially during the spread of COVID-19. Please call a professional for guidance to ensure personal protective gear is used when safely rescuing the bat and to avoid retrieving bats if you are sick or under quarantine. We never recommend any contact or coming near a bat due to diseases such as rabies, and other transmittable zoonotic diseases.

  • Always avoid handling bats or wildlife using your bare hands.
  • Ensure you are wearing gloves and appropriate personal protective gear when in areas of bat activity.
  • If the bat is dead, call the BC community bat program for the next safe steps.
  • If alive and on the ground call our support centre or your local wildlife rehabilitation centre
    • They may ask you to carefully place it in a box also using gloves and contact the BC BAT program for pick up immediately.
  • If you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat, contact the Public Health Authority to assess the risk of rabies to you and your pet.

Wildlife Rescue staff and volunteers are taking extra precautions while helping these vulnerable species, so they can return safely to the wild.

Of the 16 known bat species native to British Columbia, over half of them are species at risk, vulnerable, or threatened of becoming extinct due to natural and human disturbances.

It is estimated that only 0.5% of bats in BC carry rabies, and although caution should be taken when in the proximity of a bat, they are not to be feared! However, do remember that a bat acting abnormally could be a carrier and the likelihood of rabies in these individuals does occur.

Wildlife Rescue supports the BC BAT program by providing initial swabbing on all bats and reporting them immediately. If you come across wildlife in distress contact Wildlife Rescue at 604-526-7275 or learn more here.

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