Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

Citizen Science


By Jill Kunsmann

For a gardener, fall is always a bittersweet time of year. True, it’s hard to go “all negative” while the leaves are putting on their magical kaleidoscope of colors, and the return of the cool crisp air is a godsend after the withering heat and humidity of summer, but this year, fall had an added bonus in store for me! While cutting back perennials, I bent down to scoop up some fallen leaves but hesitated for just a second. That was most fortunate, for instead of leaves, I was about to scoop up a bat!

On his back, with wings spread and the sun shining on him, he blended perfectly into the brown mulch and yellow leaves that surrounded him. A closer look confirmed that he was still alive. I could see the rise and fall of his chest, but my assumption was that he was in the process of dying.

I’ve had lots of bats in my yard, but this was such a beauty – and so different! Without touching him, I could see that he had soft thick fur of a golden-red hue, and instead of the pointy ears of the little and big brown bats, his were gently rounded. I felt both admiration and sorrow for this creature. WGLBBO Director Bill Miller helped me identify it as an eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis). Although they are widespread throughout eastern United States, it was the first time I had seen one.

I moved to a different section of the garden to give him peace and quiet in his final hours, but not before I put up a little sun shield for him. When I checked a few hours later, he had turned himself right side up but was still huddled up on the mulch. Throughout the day, he remained in the same position … and then it was dark. At first light the next morning, I raced out to see what his status was, only to discover he was no longer there.

After a little research, I began to piece together a scenario for the bat other than my imagined swan song. The eastern red bat, described as one of the most beautiful of North American bats, usually roosts among foliage in trees and shrubs, choosing a site that is free of branches below to leave a clear flight path. In the fall, the bat migrates south to warmer climates, where they may enter short bouts of torpor in leaf litter or hanging in deciduous trees.

Undoubtedly, I had knocked this low-hanging bat from a branch as I charged through my garden chores, and since it was chilly, he was content to curl up in the warm leaf litter and bark mulch he landed on. Although the eastern red bat has a broad range east of the Mississippi River, it is a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin. Learning about a species’ habits is critical for us to participate in their conservation. For additional information on this fascinating species, click HERE.