|Austin Bat Flight|
by Stormy on June 29, 2005
There's a nightly flight of Mexican Free-Tailed Bats that takes place during the summer months in Austin. It's one of the most famous bat flights in the world!
I got to the bat flight watching location just in time for one grand experience. Parking was a major issue, but given a little creativity it became possible (and legal). I had to cross the bridge to get to the best spot, but it wasn't a big deal. There were thousands of people around!
The Congress Avenue Bridge didn't become a bat hangout until 1980, when the bridge was renovated. The deep narrow gaps between the bridge sections quickly became a favorite of the bats and over one million Mexican Free-Tailed bats use this area for a maternal colony each summer.
The viewing area is sponsored jointly by the Austin American Statesman and Bat Conservation International and is a major ecotourism spot. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people visit the bridge each year to witness this bat flight, three times larger in size than the one at Carlsbad Caverns.
This is probably as close as you can get to witnessing a bat flight. You can stand directly under the bridge as the bats emerge and take flight. One caution, though. Just like all other mammals getting up in the morning, a bat wants two things – to visit a bathroom and a breakfast. The bathroom trip happens first, right as the bats emerge. Yes, they fly over you. Don't be surprised as you get hit by liquid falling out of a clear sky. Don't try to taste it, either.
Because you can get so close to the bats here, it's also important to point out that if you find a bat on the ground, don't touch it. It may be ill or fallen down and just scared. If you touch it, you will be perceived as a predator meaning harm. The average Mexican Free-Tailed bat is less than 1/1000 of the size (weight) of the average human. Imagine how you would feel if an 80 ton monster would pick you up! It deserves to be bitten, right?
Unlike Carlsbad Caverns, there is no restriction on flash photography at the Congress Avenue Bridge. I read the literature and asked around. The thought there was that bats don't really care about flashes. If anything, they avoid the areas where bright lights exist and head immediately for their favorite feeding grounds. I'm sure that the Carlsbad Caverns rangers would call this a lawless, ruthless crowd, but having witnessed the bat flight, I have to say that the spectators were very well behaved. There was a lot of genuine curiosity and a lot of families with kids who came out with picnic lunches to observe the flight. The traffic was heavy but orderly. I saw no evidence of extra police, but nothing out of the ordinary took place along this heavily traveled road and there was no evidence that extra police is needed.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit Austin in the summer, be sure to stop by the Congress Avenue Bridge an hour before sunset and see the bats take flight. It's well worth the (free) price of admission.