Summer nights may be shorter, but they’re alive with activity as a host of nocturnal creatures make the most of the hours of darkness. Tawny owls listen for rodents rustling across woodland floors, moths flicker around night-scented flowers, and bats swoop through the air, hunting the insects that swarm in the night.
There are 17 species of bat that breed in the UK, from Natterer’s bats that snatch spiders from their webs to Daubenton’s bats that fish insects from the surface of lakes and rivers.
The most widespread and frequently seen are the common and soprano pipistrelles zigzagging through the air as they feed on up to 3,000 insects a night. Their nocturnal nature can make bats a challenge to watch, but there are few moments as magical as seeing these shadowy silhouettes sweep across the darkening sky.
Bat watching tips:
Use a bat detector: the easiest way to find and identify bats is with the help of a bat detector. This device picks up high-pitched echolocation calls of bats and makes them audible to humans. Different species echolocate at different frequencies, so we can work out which bat we’re hearing. Bat detectors come in a range of prices and complexities and may take a bit of practice to use.
Study the flight: Bats have different flight patterns, which can give you an idea of the species you’ve been watching. Pipistrelles fly erratically, noctules have a direct flight with sudden swoops, and brown long-eared bats have a slow hovering flight.
Watch the weather: it’s harder for bats to hunt on damp or windy nights, so choose a dry, still evening for your bat-watching expedition. A sheltered spot will attract bats if there is a bit of wind.
Arrive before sunset: Bats are easiest to spot around dusk when they emerge to fed and there’s still enough light to see them. Our largest bat, the noctule, is often the first to emerge, sometimes before the sun has set. Children and some adults can often hear these without a detector!
Bring the bats to you!: Water features are the best bat attractors, but also fill your garden with a variety of insect tempting flowers to create a banquet for bats. Pale and night-scented flowers are particularly popular with nocturnal pollinators. Bat boxes high on walls or trees can offer a safe space to roost.
Wait by water: Just like other animals, bats need to drink, so they’re often found around waterways. Stretches of sheltered still or slow-moving water also attract clouds of insects that they can hunt. You may even see a Daubentons bat hunting low across the water.
Go where the insects are: Bats are found in a range of habitats, from farmland to forests to gardens. They can often be seen hunting around features that attract insects, like trees, hedges and woodland edges.
Discover bats on a Wildlife Trust reserve near you at: wildlifetrusts.org/bat-spots