Bats in the Belfry (and other places)

Bat Swarm

What exactly is a belfry, anyway? The original term refers to a medieval bell tower which must have been a popular perching place for bats. Although I’ve never had a belfry, this is the first winter I recall that my husband and I have not had a disgusting little visitor flying through the house.

As a married adult, I’ve always lived in older houses. Really older houses – like a 1930’s Dutch colonial and a 1917 California bungalow. I thought that older homes were “charming.” But charming often comes with damp basements, leaky windows, not enough closets . . . and bats in the attic.

Last year, my husband and I moved to a house that was new and conventional by my architectural standards: a 1958 brick ranch with a double attached garage. The house looks – well, pretty much the same as the other brick ranches on our block; it is a house I might have scorned as “charmless” some years ago. There are a lot of things I love about the house: a remodeled kitchen with an island and a convection oven. A computer cubby off the kitchen. Enough electrical outlets for every appliance without causing a break that would short-circuit Chicago. No attic to store a lot of things we never use. Which also means no bats.

When the weather gets cold here in the Midwest, bats need a place to hibernate. Occasionally, one must get bored, decide to see how the rest of the house is living and sneaks through a crack. Older homes have a lot of cracks and bats can make themselves very small. Then the bat becomes disoriented by the light and flies willy-nilly into walls before tiring itself out and landing in furry brown stillness on a curtain or window ledge.

One Thanksgiving, our after-dinner repast included most of the family screaming en masse into the kitchen while my intrepid husband put on his bicycle helmet, went through the house opening the windows and shooed the bat out with a broom.

One year, a bat was found by our cleaning lady under a dresser bureau. We brought it to the vet school to be tested for rabies. Although a small percentage of bats carry this disease, if one has been in a bedroom it is recommended that the bat be tested. Apparently, there are people who actually sleep through a bat bite (although I can’t imagine myself being one of them).

A website called Vamoose Varmint notes that a tennis racket is the object of choice for 75% of bat home-executions. That is because a tennis racket is usually the longest handled, lethal object available in most homes. The experts do not recommend this due to obvious reasons.

One year, we trapped a bat in the upstairs bathroom and called animal control. A pretty blonde came over with a heavy leather glove and a little cage. An expert bat catcher, she was in our house not even five minutes before she was off with the happy bat, off to release him – well, I don’t know where.

If you go on any website to research bats, there’s all sorts of advice about detection and bat control (a field called chiopterea). Since killing the bats is considered a secondary option (bats are useful members of our ecological environment), there are suggestions about sealing up your house with steel wool and setting out mothballs to dissuade bats from nesting there. The smell of mothballs is supposedly offensive to bats -- but it is to humans, too.

My husband and I didn’t move because of these occasional visitors. But I can’t say I miss them, either.

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