Austin Stories B. C. – Bats

An Austin story B.C. (Before Children), sometime between 1975-1985.
A series of stories for each letter of the alphabet. The 70s were a long time ago. 26 stories might be a stretch for this old brain. We’ll see.

Our first home in Austin was at the River Hills Apartments on Royal Crest Drive. It was a cute little studio apartment: living room and kitchen downstairs; bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet upstairs. A sliding-glass door opened onto a tiny fenced patio. It was fully furnished in fabulous 70s décor – shag carpet included. Our apartment wasn’t the popular avocado green or harvest gold; it was the popular-but-not-quite-as-popular orange color. Did that orange have a descriptor? I don’t recall, but you can see it in this photo.

Me. Christmas 1977.

I don’t remember any furniture on our tiny patio, but we did try to grow a few plants. One summer we noticed “droppings” out there. Did we have rats? Were tiny bunnies squeezing through the fence? Then … no more droppings. The following summer, droppings again.

One day around dusk, we were out on our little patio and we saw them – dozens of bats flying out of surrounding apartments – and ours! The siding on the upper level of our apartment was warped, offering entry and a home to the little migratory mammals.

We promptly called the management, expecting a remedy. Nope. Bats come out at dusk when the maintenance people have gone home for the day. No one was available to nail the door shut when the bat family went out for dinner.

Martin began to research the problem the old-fashioned way: a land line phone during business hours and the library. Protected species; no poison; repel with moth balls….yadayadayada. No help to be found.

One day around sunset, Martin went upstairs. He yelled. I ran up to see what was going on. A bat was flying around the bedroom. We ran back downstairs.

Okay. So it was only one bat. But it was one bat too many.

We called the apartment office. They were on it! A kid with a tennis racket showed up at our door. We directed him up the stairs and he was off to the match. A powerful forearm stroke in the backcourt closet for the win.

Now we were spooked living in our lovely apartment. It was hard to fall asleep at night.

Since the management wasn’t going to do anything, we decided we had had enough and should find another place to live. But before we could find somewhere to go, another bat made it inside. This time it was night and we didn’t fool around. We called 911. A firefighter came to our rescue. A firefighter is exactly the person you want when you have a bat in the living room – thick protective jacket, helmet, thick leather gloves. Totally batproof! After the firefighter carried the bat out and left (with our sincere and profuse thanks), we left too – finding comfort at a hotel downtown. But not before hearing another bat (bats?) banging around in the air conditioning vent. We closed all the vent covers, packed a bag, and were out of there.

Next morning, we were fortunate to find an apartment manager who took pity on us and rented us an apartment that had just freed up. (Apparently water beds were not allowed in third floor apartments.) We couldn’t pack fast enough. On one of my trips downstairs to load up the car, I noticed a dark stain on those orange living room drapes. A stain? No!! A bat! Asleep – on the drapes!

We drove back by our old apartment several months later and again, months after that. It was vacant. We don’t know how long it remained vacant. Of people, I mean.

In 1980, the Congress Avenue Bridge was renovated and the new design unwittingly led to the proliferation of bats in Austin. It provided the perfect roosting place for the Mexican free-tailed bats that migrate to central Texas each spring. People weren’t happy about the growing number of bats in our city.

Then Merlin Tuttle moved to Austin in 1986 and relocated his fledgling conservation organization, Bat Conservation International. He worked to change the status of bats from scary rabid vampires to welcome guests.

Now bats are part of the culture and landscape of Austin. The 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that roost under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge comprise the largest urban bat colony in the world. It is a popular tourist attraction.

You can watch as the bats take flight while standing on the bridge or from a spot on land below  …

or from the water.

Austin even has a statue to celebrate our seasonal guests.


I was asking my husband to help jog my memory for a few details as I was writing this. He said he prefers not to remember traumatic events. When we hear that little clicking sound bats make when we are out at night, we still get a little spooked. Can you blame us if we haven’t been to the bridge to watch thousands of bats emerge?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday this week, where the prompt photo depicts a grand and sedate living room. At dusk perhaps??

Living Room With Grand Piano, Edvard Grieg Collection, Bergen Public Library on Flickr Commons

Please visit my fellow Sepians at Sepia Saturday.

7 thoughts on “Austin Stories B. C. – Bats

  1. Even though I know in my head bats don’t deserve their bad name, they still make me shudder. And now, of course, the possibility that COVID-19 may have been caused by bats certainly doesn’t give them good publicity! In actuality, though, they’re no more dangerous to us than mice or squirrels, etc. Living in the woods and mountains I’ve had a few run-ins with bats, . If one gets in your house at night, the best way to get rid of them is to turn off all the lights inside, turn on all your outside lights, open your doors, and wait. It shouldn’t take long for them to fly out to the light. Otherwise, I usually manage to gently shoo them outside with a broom.

    • I know they don’t deserve their bad reputation, but … No movies about vampire squirrels to plant the seed in our brains. Ha! We all know from living near such a large colony that a bat on the ground is sick and never to be touched.

    • We couldn’t believe the apartment management wasn’t going to do any thing. In retrospect, we could have raised a stink, but we just wanted out.

  2. I love bats! And I’ve been to Austin and seen the bats’ great nighttime flight from under the bridge! And for many years I was a regular donor to Bats International. And I have Merlin Tuttle’s field guide too! I LOVE bats!

    We don’t have many here in the North Carolina mountains but I once captured one that was loose in a neighbor’s house and have earned a reputation in the neighborhood as the guy to call whenever there are bats or vermin. Last year I caught a 4 ft black snake that was in the living room of the same neighbor’s home. I’m best with ground hogs, opossums, and rabbits. Always catch and release too.

    • That is so funny, Mike, for you to have so many connections to my story. Too bad we can’t call you over for animal rescue. In our next apartment, there were raccoons in the wall. In our first house – possums under the deck. This house is on a green belt. We had a swarm of bees come and they started getting in the house. And we have had rattle snakes and coral snakes in the back yard. Not in the house. Knock on wood!!!!

      • I’ve caught raccoons! And opossums! And turtles, rats, bees, and hornets too! But those snakes are not in your backyard. They’re under or in your house for sure. It’s just that they are very, very, very quiet. Late at night when you are asleep they come out and eat the other little critters you never see. :—)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *