Tracy Wait Dowd was in her second-floor apartment in Kingston, N.Y., one night in July when she heard a noise in her kitchen: A bat was fluttering near the overhead light.
She did what seemed like the most sensible thing at the time: She went to her bedroom, closed the door and hoped it would somehow disappear.
Come the morning, there was no sign of the bat. Ms. Wait Dowd had left her cat, Ginny, in the kitchen overnight but it was not clear that the cat got the bat.
“I don’t know if she killed it and destroyed all the evidence,” she said. “There was no crime scene.”
Ms. Wait Dowd is hardly alone. This time of year, when doors and windows are left open and young bats are searching for new homes, is the season for them to show up in houses.
Here’s how to cope with such an uninvited guest.
A bat is in my living room. How do I get it out?
You want to make sure the bat leaves, so it’s really important not to hide in another room and lose track of it, said Steph Stronsick, president of Pennsylvania Bat Rescue in Kutztown, Pa.
Dim, but don’t turn off, all of the indoor lights. If you can, isolate the bat in one room, she said. Open windows and doors leading to the outside. Keep outdoor lights on because insects will be drawn to them, which, in turn, will lure the bat outside.
If it does not leave on its own, try using a box, a container or net to capture it. But if you do, don’t be surprised if it makes a chittering noise — a sign of its displeasure.
“Bats are like people: They panic and can’t calm down,” Ms. Stronsick said.
Many bats cannot take off from the ground or floor, which can give you the upper hand in trapping one, said Joy M. O’Keefe, a former director of the Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation at Indiana State University.
Ms. Stronsick said bats generally need to drop from a height of five to 10 feet to become airborne.
Ideally, release a bat at dusk near a tree it can climb. Bats released during the day are more likely to be targeted by predators.
Bats have huge appetites for flying insects at night and are part of a healthy ecosystem, so be careful not to damage their wings — or worse, kill them.
Why do bats come indoors?
Generally, it happens by accident through an open door or window, or because they are dwelling in other parts of a home and make their way into living spaces, Ms. O’Keefe said.
Bats that do make appearances in our homes really aren’t interested in being there, said Merlin D. Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International. Often, they are lost youngsters, he said.
Young bats don’t know better, Ms. Stronsick said. She likened them to teenagers learning how to drive: They’re still figuring out the mechanics of getting around.
Wait. Bats could be living inside my house?
Without a doubt.
Their traditional habitats — dead or old trees — have been thinned, leaving bats to seek shelter in the attics and eaves of homes, said Carl Herzog, a wildlife biologist at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Colonies, of 20 bats on average, are generally more likely to be found in older homes, which have more cracks and crevices as means of entry, than in newer construction.
“They’re not very good at finding their way out,” Mr. Herzog said. “The bats essentially get trapped in your house.”
How would I know if I have a colony of bats?
Stand outside from 10 minutes before sunset until 20 minutes after and look for spaces where bats might emerge, like attics, soffits and eaves, Ms. O’Keefe said. An energy audit will spotlight crevices in need of insulation — likely the very spaces where bats are getting in.
But before covering any openings, it’s best to attach a one-way “excluder” made from netting or sheeting that allows bats to escape but not regain entry. Allow a week for all of the bats to exit before filling crevices with foam or caulking, Mr. Herzog said.
“Fortunately, unlike rodents, bats do not chew through walls to gain entry, nor do they chew on electrical wiring,” Mr. Tuttle said, adding that the only permanent solution to keeping bats out is exclusion.
Never seal entry points when bats might be trapped inside, he added. Flightless young may be present from mid-April through mid-August, but most bats will leave for winter.
Can bats really squeeze into teeny-tiny spaces?
Last year, Ms. Wait Dowd spotted a fanned-out bat’s wing in the half-inch space beneath her apartment door and used a Swiffer mop to push it into the hall.
She put a box on top of it and waited an hour — she said she was trying to get her nerve up — before sliding a mat below the box to set the bat free outside.
By the time she took the box outside, however, the bat was gone. A few days later, her neighbor across the hall said she found the bat, dead, in her bathroom.
Three-quarters of an inch is enough space to accommodate two bats, which like to congregate in tight quarters to conserve heat and protect themselves from predators, Ms. O’Keefe said.
Do bats pose a health hazard to humans?
Researchers recently used genetic analysis to trace the likely origin of the novel coronavirus to horseshoe bats. But blaming bats as sources for all uniquely dangerous diseases is misplaced and “based on biased sampling combined with premature speculation,” Mr. Tuttle said.
“For anyone who simply doesn’t handle bats, the risk of contracting a disease from one is extremely remote,” he said. “In America, we have been repeatedly warned of rabies from bats, yet rabies from bats is exceedingly rare, just one or two cases annually in all the U.S. and Canada combined.”
Dr. Matthew G. Heinz, an internist in Tucson, Ariz., also cautioned that bat bites, “like any animal bite, can give you a nasty bacterial infection.”
Aside from a bite, even if a person has skin-to-skin contact with a bat, it should be captured and tested, according to Mr. Herzog, the wildlife biologist. If that’s not possible, the person should contact health officials about rabies treatments.
Further, if a bat is spotted where someone had been sleeping or near a person who is unable to communicate — a baby, for example — the assumption should be that the person was exposed and should be treated for rabies, Mr. Herzog said.
People with compromised immune systems could be susceptible to histoplasmosis, a fungal infection with roots in deposits of bat guano, though such cases are “relatively rare,” Mr. Herzog said.