Rapid City wildlife officials lend hand to bat preservation

Farm Forum

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) – Building birdhouses may be more well-known, but building a bat house is not only a cool twist on a classic hobby, it can also help preserve the dwindling bat population in South Dakota.

Shirley Frederick is one of the members of the Rapid City Urban Wildlife Committee, a subcommittee of the Parks and Recreation Board. She said the committee is looking at ways the city can help protect wildlife in the city, which includes 13 bat species in the Black Hills. She worked with Keith Wintersteen, naturalist and group program coordinator for the Outdoor Campus-West, to set up a class on building bat houses for the Urban Wildlife Committee, the Rapid City Journal ( ) reported.

She said Wintersteen recently taught a class to several members of the Urban Wildlife Committee. A total of four houses were constructed and two went home with children.

“Their interest was to try encourage the construction and placement of bat houses in various places throughout the city,” Wintersteen said. “They are exploring the possibility of encouraging Rapid City residents in not only helping bats, but also creating a new method of mosquito control.”

He said the lumber, which is rough-hewn local ponderosa pine from trees damaged by the mountain pine beetle, is bought from Baker Timber Products near Rockerville. Frederick said that rough-cut wood is preferred by bats because it gives them something for their tiny feet to grip.

Frederick explained the differences between a birdhouse and a bat house.

“A bat house is open at the bottom, and the bats fly up into the house to roost and perhaps to give birth to pups,” she said. “A birdhouse, on the other hand, has one or more round holes through which the birds enter and leave.”

A bat house is about 2 feet tall, 10 inches wide and 4 inches deep. They have three chambers inside that extend from top to bottom. Wintersteen said. Roughly 75 to 100 bats can inhabit one bat house.

“It’s really a neat family activity, because you can come in with your family and learn all about bats and their role in the world,” he said.

Joel Tigner, the owner of Batworks, which is a business that performs biological surveys for bats and bat habitat management, said the bat population is declining worldwide, including here in South Dakota. Building bat houses can help because it provides a breeding habitat if they are properly constructed and put in an appropriate location.

Generally, they need to be placed somewhere that is well exposed to the sun and high off the ground. The sun is necessary to make the houses warmer. The height is important because bats need to drop down to gain air speed before they can fly. Bats generally cannot fly off a level surface, Tigner said.

He said bats’ primary contribution to the ecosystem is insect population control. A bat can usually eat its weight in insects each night, which can easily equal thousands of insects, including moths, mosquitoes and agricultural pests.

“Bats are the main predators of night insects, if the bat population continues to decline that will mean we have to rely even more on chemicals and pesticides to control agricultural pests,” he said.

People can call Wintersteen at 394-1753 to set up a bat house building class, although two weeks’ notice is required. The class itself takes about 90 minutes and is free of charge. All of the materials are provided by the Outdoor Campus-West.