Are you aware there are 10 places where you can go bat-shit crazy in the Lone Star State? Yep, the state of Texas is batty about bats! Texans love watching bats emerge in the evenings and travel to do it. Most particularly, Texas is crazy about the Mexican Free-tailed Bat who migrates to many parts of the state beginning in March every year. These cool bats spend their winters in Mexico and summers in Texas. Sounds kind of nice, don’t you think? So, why does Texas, or anyone for that matter, care about bat populations, you want to know? Well, the answer is quite simple: bats are a very necessary part of our ecosystem. Throughout history people have viewed bats in a negative fashion, but the fact is that they are a positive force in nature and in farming, for many reasons. They eat a lot of our most detested and bothersome insects such as mosquitoes, they pollinate many plant and tree species, and even their guano (waste) can be mined and used as a very valuable fertilizer. Farmers, especially those in Texas, encourage bats to forage on their lands nightly. Mexican Free-Tailed Bats love eating moths, and moths love to eat corn, cotton, pecans and sorghum from the fields. Did you know that moths can lay 1,000 eggs? Imagine the tons of moths eaten by bats, lowering the number of these pests eating crops. Studies have found that bats save millions of dollars in pesticide costs for farmers all over the United States, and that is good for humans and the economy as well.
Bats live almost everywhere, except the poles, and I’m sure there are bats living near you. Did you know, or remember, that bats are not birds, they are warm blooded mammals who nurse their young, which are called “pups”. Texas is luckily quite rich in bats, with several awesome sites where one can view their nightly emergence in the tens of thousands to the tens of millions! Bat Conservation International is an organization dedicated to keeping bat populations healthy all over the world, and you can find everything you ever needed to know about bats on their website, BatCon.org (LINK 1).
Here are the best 10 bat caves, tunnels or bridges to visit in Texas to view bats, mostly located in the Texas Hill Country, all of them are worth a long visit! You can actually plan an entire vacation around the bat roosting sites in Texas, so come on down and enjoy going bat-shit crazy!
- Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, in downtown Austin, Texas is the most popular bat site in Texas, and the largest urban bat colony in the world (yes, I said the world!). (LINK 1) Visitors and locals come from all over to watch a million and a half bats take to the skies at sunset from March to October. There are so many ways to view them in Austin! Visitors can watch from the bridge, from kayaks and boats on the Colorado River, and from buildings in downtown Austin. Get there early for a good spot because the bats come out at sunset, and they emerge on their own time. A yearly Bat Festival takes place in Austin on Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, and this year it occurs on August 18, 2018. Enjoy the flight of the bats at sunset, along with live music, arts and crafts, and food and drink! $15 for adults, kids 8 and under go free with an adult. The festival goes from 4p until midnight with plenty of batty fun!
- Bracken Cave is 20 miles north of San Antonio and is the largest colony of bats on the planet! 15 million bats roost there, a number it is hard to imagine. Bracken Cave belongs to Bat Conservation International, and they are hard at work restoring the 1500 acres of ranchland into natural landscape. (LINK 2) BCI (BatCon) hosts evenings for its members from May through September (it’s only $45 to join), and reservations are required. You can begin making reservations for the 2018 season in April, 2018 at BatCon.org. Book early, because 15 million bats coming out at sunset is quite a sight to see!
- Old Tunnel State Park is in the Texas Hill Country as well, and it is an old railroad tunnel located in picturesque Fredericksburg, Texas. It became a state park in 2012 and nightly viewing is available from May to October. Old Tunnel is a special and interesting spot because pregnant mothers roost here, but strangely enough, they do not actually give birth in the Old Tunnel. They seek out caves or bridges nearby where the ambient conditions are more stable to give birth, then end up back in the tunnel when they decide their “pups” are old enough. There are up to 3,000,000 Mexican Free-Tailed bats at Old Tunnel, but they kindly share their spaces with a few thousand cave myotis bats. There are three options for viewing the event. A free upper viewing area for the public, a lower viewing area available for $5 per person, and one can make reservations for an educational program about the bats. (LINK 3) It is best to bring binoculars to this site. Call 866-978-2287. Children 4 and up are welcome. Note that water is not available in the park, so be sure to bring your own!
- Camden Street Bridge, under I-35 in San Antonio, intersects the San Antonio River. This roosting site is a stag party with approximately 50,000 male bats hanging out under the bridge on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The Museum Reach on the San Antonio Riverwalk is from Lexington Avenue to Josephine Street, and is full of pubic art works, walking trails, and access to shopping and dining. The San Antonio Riverwalk is in downtown San Antonio, and very close to the Alamo (remember the Alamo?). “Bat Loco” events are scheduled annually, and you can find out about them by going to Texas Parks and Wildlife! (LINK 4)
- Devils Sinkhole State Natural Area is west of Kerrville, again in the Texas Hill Country. This cave, or cavern, is 350 feet deep, the deepest in the state. It is also the largest single chambered cavern in Texas. 3 Million Mexican Free-Tailed bats visit the sinkhole every summer, and you can watch tornados of bats come out in the evening. Interestingly, 3000 or 4000 cave swallows come in to roost in the sinkhole as the bats go out. Sharing is always good! To access this nature area one has to contact Devil’s Sinkhole Society at 830-683-BATS. Bats aren’t the only attraction, there are guided hikes and birding during the day as well. Bat flight tours are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $6 for children 4-11, and children under 4 are free. Remember, reservations are required! (LINK 5)
- Frio Bat Cave is an hour and a half west of San Antonio, and has a tremendous colony of 10,000,000 roosting bats! Mama bats birth and nourish their “pups” in large numbers at this location. In addition to the bats, you can witness Red Tail Hawks, Merlin and Peregrine Falcons and other birds of prey hunting the bats as they fly out for the night. Ringtail cats and skunks often sneak into the cave to grab dinner as well. Talk about bat-shit crazy, this is a birthing center and a diner in one! Go to http://www.friobatflight.com/ to book your bat tour. The cave is very close to the Frio River, and is landlocked on the Annandale Ranch. The guides begin talking about the history of the cave as well as the bats, which goes back to the Civil War. They also discuss the benefits that bats bring to nature and humans. (LINK 8)
- The Watonga Boulevard Bridge is in northwest Houston, the Texas Gulf Coast, and home to 100,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. The bridge is at 4721 Watonga Boulevard near the White Oak Bayou Greenway. There is an information kiosk on the west side of the White Oak Bayou, and it provides extra education for visitors. Be sure and look at the weather forecast before you go, bats do not come out when it is 50 degrees Farenheit or below. There are walking trails nearby, and both locals and visitors can enjoy a view of the bats as they come out at night. No reservations are needed here, and parking is ample. (LINK 9)
- Another urban colony lives at Waugh Drive Bridge, which is over Buffalo Bayou Park, less than two miles from Downtown Houston. Waugh Drive Bridge is home to a quarter of a million bats. Some of these bats remain during the winter, and on warm nights during the winter, they will emerge. It has to be over 50 degrees Farenheit for them to venture forth! The colony did not escape Harvey, but rescuers are helping to repopulate the bat population at the bridge. Bat Chats are available on the first and third Fridays of the month, be sure and come at least 30 minutes early. Meet at the viewing platform at Waugh and Allen Parkway. May through August at this location is baby season, and there are plenty of predators around every evening. When the light fades, the birds of prey go roost and the bats have the night to eat mosquitoes and insects, and pollinate plants and flowers. (LINK 10)
So, there you have it, 10 awesome locations in Texas to watch large, fascinating bat colonies emerge for their dinners most evenings! Although there are several species of bats in Texas, these sites are mostly Mexican Free-Tailed Bat sites. Remember to check out bat etiquette for each location, though some rules are steadfast for all locations. Double check your location and what time to be there. Be sure to get there early. Stand back and view the bats from a distance. Never touch a bat, if you find one hurt or ill, notify a park ranger or one of the guides because bats will bite in self-defense. Bats do not appreciate bright lights, and bright lights can keep the bats from emerging, so don’t shine lights so you can “see better”, you might see nothing at all! Do not use flashes on your cameras. Do not forget to stay quiet, bats don’t like loud noises, and if you are quiet, you may be able to hear the bats making their own noises. Surely there is no need to tell you not to throw trash, food or any other items at the bats? I hope not. Come to the Lone Star State and check out the bats! You can head over to Texas Parks and Wildlife www.tpwd.texas.gov and get all the details you need to make your plans to go Bat-Shit Crazy in Texas Hill Country and on the Gulf Coast. Enjoy!