Care & Rehabilitation - Behind the Scenes
People often ask what sort of problems, the bats that we are called to, are suffering from. Obviously every year is different, but below is a brief look at a typical year.
Around March and April we have a few calls from people who have found bats in the garden, usually on the ground. Generally they are thin and weak, because they have come out of hibernation with all their fat reserves used up. If the weather is not good and the insects are hard to find, the bat will be expending energy it can not replace and so becomes weak and eventually grounded.
With luck and if they are not too ill we are able to feed them up, and, having checked their flying and hunting ability, release them again where they came from.
The majority of our work is during the summer months as it is in June and early July that the most bats have their single (usually) baby. The females group together in 'maternity roosts' and there may be hundreds of expectant mums at one roost site. After the young are born they may initially be carried about for a few days, then left in the roost while mum goes to hunt. If for any reason mum does not return, the baby will crawl out of the roost and may be found by a householder some times in or out of the building.
We explore every possibility of them being returned to the roost if we believe the mother is still there. This includes returning at dusk with the infant to see if it is reclaimed when the adults leave to hunt. Once we are sure that the baby is alone, we take them into care. If they have been without food for a long time we may not be able to save them, but often with re-hydration and then milk feeding they can be reared and eventually weaned on to meal worms. It is a time-consuming task with 6-8 feeds daily initially depending on age, gradually down to 3-4 feeds daily coming up to weaning at around 3 weeks.
Having several babies all at different stages can be hard work! We also acquire infants when a roost is abandoned by the mums or disturbed, and the mums flee in panic.
Once the babies are weaned they need to be encouraged to fly and hunt which is the hardest part and has varying success.
Our next flurry of activity is late July and August when all the juveniles are out and about trying out their wings. Youngsters learn to fly at about 3 weeks and are probably still fed milk by mum for a further 3 weeks. After this they are on their own as the roost disbands. Flying, echolocating and hunting is a lot to get to grips with and many do not manage to find enough food to sustain them. Some find their way to us. Happily, we can feed many up and after a period of rest and checking their skills off they go again.
It is generally during the summer months that we get bats of any age with cat related injuries. These can be quite horrific, with wings and ears chewed off, for which there is only one humane option. Or wounds maybe minor with wing membrane tears that with time, and sometimes antibiotics from the vet, will heal and a full recovery made. The biggest danger is when an apparently superficially injured bat in fact has a wound from a claw or tooth that has penetrated the body leading to blood poisoning.
Other problems that we have seen bats with are breaks to wings from an unknown impact, injuries from fishing hooks, and severe damage from being caught on flypaper.
During the autumn the bats are trying to fatten up and sometimes will take risks, coming out in really bad weather to hunt or just get caught by sudden storms and end up in a soggy pile on the patio. Again, it is food and rest that are needed, and then hopefully they can return out to the wild again. At this time of year, it is a race against time to get the bats released before winter sets in.
Winter is a quiet time for bat workers (a chance to get all the paperwork up to date) but an occasional bat will get displaced from his hibernation site or turn up in a shed or house. Often, we keep these until the spring.