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Bat Watching in Houston: A Newbie’s Guide to Night Flyers

Bat Watching in Houston A Newbie’s Guide to Night Flyers

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a bat! Are you ready for a thrilling adventure in the heart of Houston that’s unique? Look no further than bat watching! 

Houston is home to one of the largest bat colonies in the world, and watching these fascinating creatures emerge from their caves at dusk is an experience like no other. 

Join us as we delve into the world of bat watching in Houston and discover why it’s a must-see attraction for nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike.

What kinds of bats call Houston home? 

What kinds of bats call Houston home's Homepage
Image Source: National Geographic Website

Forty-seven bat species can be found across the USA. Texas is home to 32 of them, so it’s no wonder that you can also find loads of different bats in Houston. These bats can be found living on tree branches, inside tree trunks, or most commonly, in caves. 

Some of the bat species that are known to call Houston home are:

  • The Big Brown Bat – Aside from utilizing tree crevices and hollows, these bats are also known to take up residence in attics and under house eaves. 
  • Eastern Pipistrelle – As the smallest bat in the region, measuring between 3 and 3.5 inches, its fur ranges from reddish to light brown, giving it a distinct appearance.
  • Evening Bat – With shades of reddish brown to dark brown fur, these bats are often only seen at night and are associated with bat houses.
  • Hoary Bat – As the largest bat species in the area at 4 to 6 inches, they have yellowish fur and choose evergreen trees as their roosting spot.
  • Northern Yellow Bat – This relatively small species finds comfort roosting in dead palm leaves and the drape of Spanish moss.
  • Silver-haired Bat – With its distinct black fur adorned with silver tips, these solitary bats are slow fliers, making them a unique sight among the night sky. Spotting them may require patience, though.
  • Seminole Bat – These bats have a rich mahogany brown fur, preferring to roost within the delicate strands of Spanish moss or moss-covered branches. 
  • The Eastern Red Bat – With their reddish-brown coat, you can find them seeking refuge amidst the lush foliage of deciduous trees. 
What kinds of bats call Houston home
Image Source: Michael Durham on Bat Conservation International Website

However, out of all the many bat species found in Houston, the Mexican-free tailed bat is the most common (pictured above). Also known as Brazilian free-tailed bats, they can be found throughout the city and across Texas as a whole.

As insectivores (which means they feed on insects such as mosquitoes, moths, and agricultural pests), a single Mexican free-tailed bat can eat up to 1,000 insects in a single night!

Although Houston is home to several bat species, not all of them can readily be observed. Only the Mexican free-tailed bat have set locations, times, and systems in place to watch in Houston. 

So, here are some things you should know about catching a glimpse of these amazing creatures in the flesh right here in Houston!

Where are the best places to watch Mexican-free tailed bats in Houston?

Waugh Drive Bridge 

Waugh Drive Bridge's Homepage
Image Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Organization Website

Every night, just as the sun begins to set, an estimated 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the Waugh Drive Bridge, creating an unforgettable sight. 

Nestled among lush green vegetation of Buffalo Bayou Park, this bridge rests over Buffalo Bayou, less than two miles west of Downtown Houston. 

Waugh Drive Bridge
Image Source: North American Nature Website

There are several great spots to view the bats at the Waugh Drive Bridge.

  • You can head to the viewing platform located at the southeast corner of the bayou bank next to the bridge, along Allen Parkway.
  • Another great spot is on the northeast bank of the bayou near the bridge, close to Memorial Drive.
  • And for an up-close view, you can stand on the east rail sidewalk of the bridge itself and look directly down into the bayou channel. 

It’s easily accessible and you can park in the lot located at Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard. Remember to bring binoculars and a camera to capture the moment.

For the best bat watching at the Watonga Boulevard bridge, warm nights any month of the year are ideal. However, if the temperature nears 50 degrees or below during sunset or if it’s raining, the bats usually stay inside the bridge crevices and do not emerge.

Pro Tip: 

If you want to learn more about bats, you can attend the “Bat Chats” on Friday nights from March to October at the bridge. Remember to arrive 30 minutes before sunset to hear the batty Q & A presentation courtesy of The Houston Area Bat Team. 

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership offers boat trips on the bayou, where you can watch the bat flight from below. You’ll need to make a reservation here for a seat on these tours. 

Address: Waugh Dr, Houston, TX 77002, USA

Contact Information: +1 (832) 395-7000, +1 (713) 752-0314

Website: www.houstontx.gov/parks/ 

Social Media: Facebook, Instagram

Watonga Boulevard Bridge

Watonga Boulevard Bridge's Homepage
Image Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Website 

One of the best places to observe bats in Houston is at the Watonga Boulevard bridge, where around 100,000 Mexican free-tailed bats gather every evening from late spring through early fall, so you can drop by anytime from May to November.

Located on the west side of the city, the Watonga Boulevard bridge spans White Oak Bayou, a waterway that winds its way through the heart of Houston. 

From mid-April to early October, a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats makes its home under the bridge’s concrete span. At dusk, the bats emerge from their roost to forage for insects, creating a remarkable spectacle that is worth experiencing.

To get the best view of the bats, you should arrive about an hour before sunset. The bats usually start to emerge from the bridge’s crevices just after sunset and will continue to fly and feed for about an hour. 

Watonga Boulevard Bridge
Image Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Website

To reach the bat colony in the Garden Oaks area, visitors can park at the Watonga Boulevard and De Milo Drive lot (identified by the green Watonga Parkway Park sign) and walk north for a few blocks along the White Oak Bayou Greenway. 

Once you arrive at the section of Watonga Boulevard that intersects with T.C. Jester Boulevard, you will have reached the spot where the bayou is crossed.

There are many vantage points to view the bat flight. You can find a spot to stand on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway, which gives you a panoramic view of the bayou and the bats’ emergence. 

You can also view the bats from the nearby walking trail or the green space next to the bridge. 

Texas Parks and Wildlife Website
Image Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Website

Pro Tip:

Stay on designated paths and try not to disturb the bats. This isn’t only for the animals’ safety, but also for yours!

Do not shine bright lights or use flash photography, as it can disorient the bats and cause them to crash into objects. Also, avoid making loud noises or sudden movements, as it can startle the bats and cause them to change their flight path.

During the summer months, the Watonga Boulevard bridge hosts various educational events, including Bat Chats. 

These free public programs are led by bat experts who share their knowledge and experience with attendees. You can learn about the bats’ habitat, behavior, and role in the ecosystem.

Address: White Oak Bayou Greenway Tr, Houston, TX 77092, USA

Contact Information: +1 (832) 395-1000, +1 (713) 942-8500 

Website: www.houstontx.gov/parks/ 

Social Media: Facebook

What time is the best time to watch Mexican-free tailed bats in Houston?

What time is the best time to watch Mexican-free tailed bats in Houston
Image Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Website

When you go bat watching in Houston, it’s more likely you’ll encounter the Mexican free-tailed bats or Brazilian free-tailed bats. These bats can’t be seen year-round because of their migratory patterns with a section of time they spend in Mexico. 

At the start of spring in February, the bats start to look for a new place to call home where there is high humidity and warmer temperatures. Most of these colonies are huge, so they fly in huge groups towards certain spots in Texas.

Nevada Department of Wildlife Website
Image Source: Nevada Department of Wildlife Website 

During spring and summer, these animals settle down in some of the popular bat watching areas we’ve mentioned here. 

The best time to watch bats in Houston is during the warmer months of the year, from April to October. During these months, bats are more active and emerge from their roosts to forage for insects. 

By the end of summer around August, the pups are already exploring by themselves, and procreating. 

So, as the colony’s size grows bigger, August is usually one of the best times to go bat watching as the bat emergences are not only more frequent, but the number of bats coming out of the caves are also higher. 

As it gets colder through October and November, the Mexican free-tailed bats begin their migration to Mexico for the winter. If you’re lucky, you can witness the final migration of the colony during these months! 

It’s best to arrive at the bat watching location about 30 minutes before sunset. Bats usually emerge from their roosts at dusk and fly for about an hour. Watching the bats fly at sunset is a unique experience that should not be missed.

However, it’s important to note that the best time to watch bats can also depend on the weather. Bats prefer warm temperatures and are less likely to fly on cold nights. 

If temperatures near 50 degrees or below, or if it’s raining, the bats might not emerge from their roosts.

Another factor to consider is the time of year. Mexican free-tailed bats, the species commonly found in Houston, migrate south during the winter months. So, if you’re planning a bat watching trip during the winter, you might not find any bats.

FAQS on bat watching in Houston

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