Everything you need to know about Austin’s Congress Bridge Bats

What happens to Austin’s 1.5 million bats during freezing winter storms?

You may be asking yourself if the Austin area bats are okay during freezing temperatures.

When cold weather hits in late October to mid-November, the Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Mexico, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

There are more than 1,400 species of bats, according to data from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Texas is home to 31 species of bats, two of which are endangered, according to Pest Gnome. In October 2023, the Lone Star State was named the best state in the U.S. for bat lovers.

 

How did the bats fair during the 2021 freeze?

Lee Mackenzie and Dianne Odegard, a married couple who run Austin Bat Refuge, picked up as many as about 600 bats, dead and alive, during the 2021 freeze from multiple Central Texas bridges.

The pair said they have never dealt with anything like this.

It’s impossible to tell how many bats across the state have died because of the 2021 freeze, Mackenzie said, but the number is significant and could affect bat populations in Texas.

Do bats migrate or hibernate in the winter?

Not all bats hibernate. Some bats migrate during colder months to warmer areas in search of food.

Although many bats in Texas migrate south to Mexico and Central America during the winter months, as many as 100,000 bats can linger year-round in the Austin area.

Roosts under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge have helped keep bats warm when temperatures start to drop. The spaces are 16 inches deep and 1 inch wide and can retain heat for the bats. The bridge hosts the largest urban bat colony in the world, with an estimated 1.5 million bats, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Where can you view bats in Texas?

The state features nine bat-viewing sites and 18 bat rescuers. Bat-watching starts in late March through early fall.

Here are some locations in Austin:

Bats are the only flying mammals and are really fast

A bat’s wing resembles a modified human hand, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The flexible webbing that extends between each long finger bone and many movable joints make bats agile fliers.

Depending on the species, some bats can fly up to 100 mph.

Bats have a long lifespan

Although most bats live less than 20 years, six species were documented to live past 30. The oldest bat was discovered in Siberia at 41 years old.

How do bats help the community?

More than 300 species of fruits, such as bananas, mangos, and avocados, depend on bats for pollination.

They also spread the seeds of nuts, figs and cacao – the main ingredient in chocolate. The agave and saguaro cactus also depend on bats for their health.

What can you do to protect bats?

Bats have few natural predators but are mostly threatened by diseases such as white-nose syndrome. The disease causes a white fungus to grow on a bat’s face, forcing it awake during hibernation and leading to starvation.

People can help slow the spread of white-nose syndrome by avoiding areas where bats are hibernating. You can also help by decontaminating footwear, clothes and other gear before entering caves, as spores of the fungus are easily spread by people.

Livestream: Watch bats from Bracken Cave in San Antonio

Adrian Hedden, a Carlsbad Current-Argus reporter and Pat Rice, a Daytona Beach News-Journal editor, contributed to this report.

 

2023 Austin Bat Fest graphic

2023 Austin Bat Fest

 

Don’t Miss the Annual 2024 Bat Fest

Live music, food & drinks, tons of vendors, and 1.5 million bats? You don’t want to miss out on this yearly event in ATX. Visit www.batfest.com for complete details and music lineup! 2 million Mexican Free Tail Bats, 2 stages of music, arts and crafts, food, kids activities. Get your tickets here!


Guide to the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats

Hello and welcome to Austin Bat Tours, where we have all the top tips on where the fabled Mexican (or Brazilian) Free-Tailed Bat likes to hang out! These interesting and fastidious little bug eaters are actually pretty common in terms of animal population, but in recent years destruction of their nesting sites has earned them a place on the protected species list in some States – making the best place to see them on an Austin Bat tour all of your very own!


Why We Are Bat Crazy

Here at Austin Bat Tours we believe Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge bats are for everyone. We want to share that love with other enthusiasts by providing a safe and welcoming environment in which you can enjoy this spectacular sightseeing opportunity for the unforgettable experience that it is. We take pride in providing only the very finest quality in informative and engaging tours run by our highly trained and fully professional guides – who love bats as much as we do and who are always happy to help!

If you find these furry little creatures fascinating, then you will be happy to know that we operate tours in and around the city that are specifically devised to let you see as many bats as possible. We know all the little nooks and crannies that they like to hide in at the Congress Avenue Bridge. We operate evening tours (since evening is the best time to see them) that will show you our beautiful city as well as our beautiful furry friends. When you book with Austin Bat Tours you book with the best!

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Congress Avenue Bat Bridge

Bat Flight Time: About 45K bats under the bridge; taking flight before or during sunset from 7:45 - 8:18 p.m.

Admission: Free

Parking: Combined Meter/Free Parking Lots Interspersed Throughout the City

What to Wear: Dress Warmly for this Post-Sunset Spectacle. Besides that Anything Goes. It is not unusual for “Batman” to show up several times a week.

You Will Need: Your Camera, a Picnic Blanket and your Sense of Adventure! Snacks are Sensible Too.

Your Safety Matters to Us

We care for your comfort and safety when you come on a tour with us, so please make sure to dress in your summer clothes as Bats favorite the warm weather and are mostly visible from October to March when it can get to 90 to 100 degrees. If you fancy something entirely different we even operate kayak tours that give you the chance to spy these magnificent creatures from the water. Not only is this an unforgettable excursion it also lets you see our splendid city in the most spectacular way!


See Many Bats

The Mexican Free-Tailed bats love to nest in our awesome city. Known as the fastest horizontal flyer on the planet and able to reach recorded speeds of 160 km/h; their departure every sunset from the Congress Avenue Bridge is world renowned – and so it should be, with its unimaginable colony of 1.5 million of them!


Book Now

So, to book your bat-based extravaganza either by sea or by land contact us today. We love to hear from other bat lovers and no question is too big or too small. You can also visit our shop to browse all the best in bat goodies. If you want to stay ahead of the curve in all things Mexican Free-Tailed Bats then please do sign up for our mailing list, where you can get access to special bat new and discounts that’s enough to make any fellow bat fan smile!

Please enjoy your visit with Austin Bat Tours and if there is anything else we can do for you just let us know!

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Featured Congress Bridge Bat Video!

Congress Bridge Bats in Austin, Texas

Most of the visitors that venture into Austin, Texas have heard of the city’s reputation for being home to a colony of Mexican Free-Tailed Bats.  Often overlooked, however, is the fact that Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge over Lady Bird Lake is one of the few locals that bats truly inhabit, and it is one of the biggest colonies of urban bats on the entire planet.  Many bat watchers from around the globe visit the Congress Bridge between Spring and Fall, to witness these majestic-winged creatures in flight.

The Congress Avenue Bridge Bats take flight out for their nightl

The Congress Avenue Bridge Bats take flight out for their nightly feeding. A truly spectacular sight to behold.

If you are familiar at all with bats, you know that they are nocturnal creatures by nature, and as the sun sets, they take flight, looking to consume any and all unsuspecting insects that happen to be airborne.  With a flight speed of 60 miles per hour, insects do not stand a chance, leaving  spectators awestruck by the bats amazing and erratic flight patterns.  Each evening, the flight path of the bats is unique and different from the previous, creating anticipation as bat enthusiasts await the cacophony of nocturnal, leathery wings.

Generally, the bats known simply as “scouts” will break the cavern enclosure initially, ensuring that no predators are waiting nearby.  The scouts will then signal the remaining bats that all is clear causing up to three massive streams of bats to rocket out of the cave and take to the skies!

Austin Bat Fest

Once a year, Austin, also known as “Bat City”, hosts an extravagant celebration in honor of the Mexican Free-Tails.  People from all around gather together to celebrate these mammals with food, professional vendors, and music.  Tourists, bat aficionados, and locals alike, all take pride in and cherish this annual event.

Thousands gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge for Bat Fest

Thousands gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge for Bat Fest, Austin’s most popular “Bat” celebration held every August featuring 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the Congress Avenue Bridge.

Where Did They Come From?

If legend can be trusted, the Mexican Free-Tail bats started to frequent Austin, Texas, from spring to fall, at the same time the Congress Avenue Bridge was renovated, which attracted the bats already living in the drains located in the underbelly of the northern part of the bridge, seemingly by accident, and caused other bats of the same species to migrate from Mexico with the local bats making the same migration.  The bats were happy to find that the miniscule crevices under the bridge were ideal for building a colony and housing many, many bats.  With the assistance of time, purportedly, the colony eventually grew to be about one and half million strong, which is impressive, to say the least.

The bats population reached maximum capacity in approximately three years, stacking on top of one another in the aforementioned crevices.  This brought about the locals dubbing the northern portion of the bridge the “nursery”, which is where the mama bats leave their offspring as they go about their night-time insect hunting.  They then return to the nursery and use scent and echo location to find their bundles of nocturnal mammalian joy, which they then nurse before resting.

Having discovered Congress Bridge, the bats now make an annual migration from Mexico to Austin, Texas from the spring time to the fall, which would be the perfect time for any bat watchers or curious tourists to come visit the city and observe these marvelous mammals!

The Austin locals are also happy with the environmentally conscious bats whom eat an estimated thirty thousand pounds of insects every single night, reducing the need for any pesticide usage.  Not to mention that those pesky mosquitoes virtually do not exist due to the hungry creatures eating them every night.

About the Bats

When the bats initially migrate back to Austin, Texas, there will approximately be about 750,000 bats, which are, in their entirety, made up of pregnant females.  The colony, at this point is a “maternity colony”.  During their time as a maternity colony they will each birth one pup, generally creating an equal gender ratio within the colony, effectively doubling the colonies size to one and a half million!  That is a whole lot of bats!

 

Austin’s Congress Bridge Bats fly out from under the Congress

Austin’s Congress Bridge Bats, about 1.5 million, the largest urban bat colony in the world, fly out from under the Congress Ave. Bridge each night from March to October every year.

The newborn pups will generally stay at the colony for the first season, or so, of their lives, but the mothers that birthed them can always be expected to return to where they birthed their offspring the year prior.  With all of the female bats in Austin, let us not forget about the bountiful male population, as well.  The male bats will generally cluster in small groups ranging from twenty to one hundred, often times being found roosting on building alcoves, and the like.

These aforementioned Mexican Free-Tailed bats can live almost a decade and can weigh approximately twelve grams with a wingspan of eleven, or so, inches.  If they do not spread their wings, however, they are the size of an average adult’s palm.

Mexican free-tailed bats live for 8-9 years and only grow to weigh roughly 12 grams. Their wingspan is about 11”, but with their wings retracted, they can fit in the palm of a hand.

Another interesting fact about Austin’s bats are that in the early years of the 1980s, Austin locals worried about rabies infection and the implications therein of the bat populace outnumbering that of the local humans.  Purportedly, the locals petitioned for the extermination of the bats and the dismemberment of the colony.  If it were not for the Bat Conservation International organization, the bats may not have been around for the enjoyment of the individuals now.

If a bat ever contracts rabies, typically they have approximately seventy-two hours until they die, and are often experiencing the initial symptom of paralysis.  With that being said, if you see a grounded bat, do not touch it, as it may, in fact, have rabies.  If you happen to touch, or be bitten, by a downed bat, be sure to capture it and have it tested for rabies to ensure that you have not unknowingly contracted the disease.

Another bit of information that should be known is that, although the Mexican Free-Tail bat is a powerful and agile flyer, the young bats tend to fly at a lower altitude and can have trouble with lifting off, causing them to fall into the water.  If a young bat is spotted in the water, simply leave it be, as it will attempt to “backstroke” to one of the bridge pylons and clamber to safety.

Where Can Someone See the Bats?

The Mexican Free-Tail bats can be found in quite a few places around Austin.  Not only are they seen in most of the caverns and caves dotting the countryside, but they can be seen just south of Austin, at Bracken Cave, at the Hancock Center, at McNeil Overpass and the I-35 bridge, and dotting the alcoves and sides of various buildings around the city.

Bat enthusiast on top and below the Congress Avenue Bridge eager

Bat enthusiasts on top and below the Congress Avenue Bridge eagerly await the bat show when the bats drop out of the bridge for their nightly feeding.

The Statesmen Bat Observation Center, just southeast of Congress Bridge, does not cost much, and is available for public use.  With standing room along the top portion of the bridge and the closest parking to Congress Bridge, the Observation Center is definitely worth looking into if you want to see the bats.

If looking for bats by yourself does not seem too appealing, then you could always jump on one of the Austin Bat Tours, such as the Walking Tour, the Kayak Bat Sunset Tour on Lady Bird Lake, or the Bat Photo Tour.

Guide to Watching the Bats and Austin Bat Tours

With three different ways to experience the “Bats of Austin”, the bat tours will make for a memorable experience that will last a lifetime.

The Bat Walking Tour is approximately a ninety-minute tour guided by one of Austin’s leading bat experts.  Initially, the meeting point before the start of the tour is the Hyatt Hotel.  From there, the walk begins towards the Congress Bridge and stops at the Statesmen Observation Center where the bat experts then explain, in a thorough and vividly detailed manner, the history and backstory of Austin’s bats and how it all came about.

The Kayak Bat Watching Sunset Tour typically consists of a one hundred and twenty to one-hundred-and-fifty-minute endeavor that embarks from the Kayak Tour Offices on Riverside Drive and is an amazing way to view Austin up close and personal.  This tour encompasses some of Austin’s more historical and awe-inspiring sights, along with viewing the bats gobbling down bugs.

The Photo Tour is approximately a one-hundred-and-twenty-minute guided tour that begins at Congress Avenue Kayaks.  This tour is guided by a professional photographer who explains how to take amazing photographs of these majestic mammals.

One of the tips given on the Photo Tour is to shoot video instead of taking photos, as cellular devices typically do not have a fast-enough shutter speed to capture these agile animals in flight.

The various bat tours begin in the evening, and start in early March, proceeding until November.  Worst case scenario is that the bats do not take flight due to inclement weather, but the tours still afford many amazing photo opportunities.

Austin Bat Tours is a proud sponsor of Batcon and the Austin Bat Refuge. We make an annual sales donation to support these fine organizations:

Bat Conservation International
http://www.batcon.org/