One of two bat houses installed in Pastorius Park. (Photo by Lane Blackmer)

by Lane Blackmer

If you look 40 feet up in the trees of Pastorius Park, you’ll spot the bat signal

It’s not a spotlight meant to summon a leotard-wearing, crime-fighting superhero, but a small wooden box that could save the day for those who wish to take a summer evening stroll.

About a month ago, Friends of Pastorius Park (FOPP) installed two bat houses in two quiet, hidden locations. The Friends hope not only to provide a learning opportunity, but also to preserve the animals and – most of all – an eco-friendly solution to bug extermination.

The Friends first came to this idea after board member Tracy Gardner realized there were far fewer bats in the park than in years past.

“I’ve lived here for over 30 years,” she said. “And I remember seeing more bats in the evenings.”

Gardner said that, consequently, she’s noticed more mosquitoes whizzing around her head. Usually, she solves the problem by spraying the rim of a baseball cap, but that doesn’t help her dog. She also worries that an excess of bugs will deter people from taking an evening walk in the park.

So Gardner – who admittedly is a bat lover – introduced the idea to FOPP.

“I thought it would be a good idea to put a couple of [bat] houses here and see how they do,” she said.

FOPP accepted the idea, but on one condition – the houses be paid for outside of the group’s regular funds. Two board members – Anne Putnam and Harriet Palmer – volunteered the cash needed for the houses.

“I figured if [Palmer] wanted to donate one of the houses I could donate the other,” Putnam said. “[It’s] hardly a major expense – they are only $79 each.

The eight-pound houses, which have three chambers and can house up to 90 bats each, were hoisted into two trees about a month ago.

Sandra Acosta, a bat expert Gardner consulted, was also brought in to help advise the Friends on how to get the job done. Acosta climbed 30-foot ladders to paint the houses with guano – bat feces – to attract the animals.

Acosta said she thinks that bats will make a great addition to the park, helping to solve the insect problem in addition to creating a better ecosystem in the park.

“It is completely organic,” she said, adding that it would create a healthier environment. “First of all, the insects are not infecting people with any diseases. Second, they are not causing people these rashes. And third, once the bat processes the insect and expels the pellet, the guano, the guano is a fertilizer.”

“So the whole cycle of having a bat around is helpful,” she said.

But Acosta said there were already bats in the area. They already have the tendency, she said, to roost in abandoned buildings because they are quiet. So the bat houses, she added, will help direct them to a more suitable and natural environment.

“This park is a prime feeding ground because it has all the elements to breed insects,” she said, referring to Pastorius’ man-made pond and 16 acres of trees.

But don’t expect to see any bats anytime soon. Acosta said the houses usually take about two-to-three years to attract them. Until then, she advises anyone in the park not to disturb the houses.

“The last thing you want to do is to disturb it,” she said. “They have very good memories. Once they feel threatened, they don’t want to be there anymore.”

Acosta said she also would provide learning opportunities for children if the community seems to want it. Education is important, she says, to help change peoples’ negative perception of bats.

“They are the most wonderful human friends,” she said. “Sadly, our perception of them has been tainted by Hollywood by these misconceptions that have demonized them.”

Since Acosta refused payment, the Friends made a donation to Diamond Rock Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, the wildlife organization where she volunteers.