It’s common knowledge that bats are mostly nocturnal creatures that take late evening and nightly flights eastward as the sunsets.
This is the case for the nearly 2 million bats in Austin, Texas. They fly eastward from the Congress Avenue Bridge down the mighty Colorado River.
Their nightly hunts last 7-8 hours long as they forge to feed themselves and their newly birthed bat pups. They return each morning between 2 am and 4 am to feed their young and rest up.
Keeping Austin Weird One Bat At A Time
Austin, Texas is a city known for many exciting things. It’s a tech hub to the up and coming tech professionals around the globe.
Others know Austin for it’s thriving hipster scene as the melting pot and music Mecca of the world. And still, many others would choose taco, bbq, and food trucks as Austin’s calling card.
Oh, and let us not forget the endless number of festivals:
Then there are the unforgettable iconic and cultural markers of Austin:
- The Capitol
- 6th Street
- The Paramount
- Austin City Limits
- Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake)
- Auditorium Shores
- Steve Ray Vaughn
- The University of Texas in Austin
- Mt Bonnell
- Barton Springs
- and the list continues…
But something that “Keeps Austin Weird” takes place daily near dusk at the Congress Avenue Bridge: bat watching.
Good locations to watch bats in automation
From March until late September, nearly 200,000 people a year gather along the sidewalk of the Congress Avenue Bridge, also known as Austin’s Bat Bridge. They flock to the bridge daily to watch hundreds of thousands of bats fly eastward down Town Lake, which is also the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake.
While many enthusiasts, locals, and tourists watch from the bridge, there are just as many people watching from the grassy knoll and hike and bike trail near the Austin Statesman Bat Conservatory, which is eastwardly adjacent to the Congress Bridge.
And if that weren’t enough, another 50 to 100 people scatter across the waters of Town Lake. They row or float in various canoes, kayaks, and party boats to witness this one-of-a-kind bat experience each spring and summer evening.
As onlookers eagerly await the bats dropping from the bridge to glide into the flight, the excitement, cheers, whistles, and flashes of cameras build. Most onlookers and passerby’s endlessly gazing in amazement at the nearly 2-hour bat-acular aerial show our nocturnal friends put on each night.
Millions of daddy and momma bats, and bat pups in tow
Mixed in with all of this excitement is the growing chatter of nearly 2 million female Mexican free-tailed bats. They are also accompanied by their newly born bat pups chattering and chirping to no end. It’s like a nightly bat watching party made for all ages and walks of life to enjoy.
I bet you’re wondering about male bats and their location, right? Well, male bats often cluster in cavernous places. Most male bats have been sighted near other bridges, buildings, and crevices not far from the Congress Avenue Bridge.
The mothers and their pups take flight in a streaming cluster that resembles that of swarming bees.
In fact, there are so many bats closely flying in the air that meteorologists of local nearby news stations often spot the bats on the radar, early on confusing the clustering of bats for possible late-evening rain showers. And just as clouds move on the weather radar, so do the bats move and fly at various altitude levels until they disappear from the radar.
In general, bats often fly as low as 500 feet above the ground to as high as 10,000-15,000 feet. In the case of bats in Austin, they typically fly between 3,000-5,000 feet above the ground.
Where do the bats go each evening and well into the night?
That’s a good question. No one really knows the bats’ flight pattern and duration. However, it changes nightly based on weather, winds, food supply, sound, and light. There are many other factors unknown to bat researchers that determine the bats’ flight pattern and duration.
But what is known about the Austin bats is that their flight pattern is often always eastward from Congress Avenue Bridge. They then pass by Alta Cafe and Congress Kayaks, and the IH-35 bridge shortly after.
During their night flights, they’re flying, eating, and releasing bodily waste. It’s been said and believed that bats defecate and urinate from their mouths. These thoughts are long-held myths that are simply not true. However, just like humans, bats can and do occasionally sneeze throughout their flight for reasons not known to man.
What we do know about the bats is they have a healthy appetite when taking their nightly flight eastward down the Colorado River. They fly in search of a wide variety of insects and bugs to feast on.
Somewhere just beyond the IH35 bridge and just before the 183 bridge near the airport, the bats disband into hundreds of different directions.
Some continue on eastward following the food and water source of the Colorado River. Others veer from the Colorado River for a night of feasting on farmland worms and beetles. Others venture into neighborhoods in hopes of finding moths and other nocturnal insects for themselves and their bat pups.
When do the bats in Austin return to Congress Avenue Bridge?
It’s not known exactly how late Austin’s birds of the night remain in flight each evening and well into the night. It is also not well documented when they return nightly.
Most assume or think the natural magnetic field is responsible for when bats take flight. In addition, the same magnetic field or force likely determines how long they remain in flight for a given night before returning back to their specific roosting location at the bridge.
In the case of bats returning to the Congress Avenue Bridge, between 2 am and 4 am is the best guess. Many arrive return and leave throughout the course of the evening to feed their pups mostly located towards the northern end of the Congress Avenue Bridge not far from The LINE Hotel.
It’s safe to say that the bats return to the bridge is not as exciting as their famed evening departure. Most of Austin is long been asleep by the time the bats return to the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Of course, the exception to this is the Austin party goer. You know, the stumbling and the bumbling person that may have had one too many bat brews from nearby 6th Street. 🥳