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The Congress Avenue Bridge Bats

By Jacci Howard Bear

Emergence of the bats of the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas at dusk.
Peter17/Wikimedia Commons
March heralds the return of the Congress Avenue bats in Austin. From March through April thousands of mostly female, pregnant Mexican free-tailed bats migrate North to give birth. And they stay through the spring, summer, and early fall.

How Many Bats Live Under the Congress Avenue Bridge?:

The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin is the spring and summer home to some 750,000 bats with up to 1.5 million bats at the peak of the bat-watching season. It's the largest urban bat colony in North America.

Why Did the Bats Choose the Congress Avenue Bridge?:

While bats have called Austin home for many years, it was after renovations to the Congress Avenue bridge over Lady Bird Lake (then called Town Lake) in 1980 that they found their favorite hangout. Narrow but deep openings created in the bridge turned out to be perfect accommodations.

Congress Avenue Bat Flights:

Each evening around sunset the Congress Avenue bats emerge like a black cloud from the crevices of the bridge. Covering the countryside in search of food, it is estimated that the bats consume from 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects.

Giving birth in June or July, the bats and pups hang around til October when they head back south. Watching the nightly forays for food is a favorite evening activity, especially in late summer.

When and Where To See the Congress Avenue Bats:

Although the Congress Avenue bats are in residence as early as March, the best bat views are in August when the young pups join their mothers in the nightly flights. It can take as long as 45 minutes for all the bats to exit the bridge. There are plenty of locations along Lady Bird Lake in the vicinity of Congress Avenue where you can watch the bats. Flights normally occur around 8 to 8:30 pm but could be earlier or later. Best bet, call the Bat Conservation International at (512) 327-9721 for times.
In addition to lining up on the sidewalks along the Congress Avenue bridge there are other safer and popular spots for bat-watching:

Viewing Tips & Suggestions for Austin's Congress Avenue Bats:

Call the Bat Conservation International (512-327-9721) to get updates on the bats and approximate times when they are expected to emerge.
  • Late summer is the best time to see the most spectacular flights.

  • Arrive early to get the best view (and to insure you don't miss them if they emerge earlier than expected).

  • If viewing from the grassy areas around Lady Bird Lake, bring a blanket.

  • If planning to watch from a nearby restaurant, make a reservation if necessary or arrive early to insure good seating.

  • Depending on how close you are, an umbrella is a good idea (no, not protection from rain - think about it).

  • Drivers: Be careful when traveling in the area around the time of the bats emerging. Don't let the sight of the bats distract you from the roadway. Be aware that there may be a larger than usual number of pedestrians in the area.

  • Pedestrians: Be careful when traveling in the area around the time of the bats emerging. Don't let the sight of the Congress Avenue bats distract you and cause you to walk into traffic and be cautious near roadways where drivers could become distracted themselves.

  • Never touch a bat: Some bats can have rabies. No need to panic but use caution if you encounter a live or dead bat. If you find a bat in your home or on your property, contact Austin/Travis County Animal Control. Don't attempt to capture or dispose of the bat yourself.
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