Tracy Wait Dowd was at her second-floor apartment in Kingston, New York one night in July when she heard a noise in her kitchen: a bat fluttering near the skylight.
She did what seemed most sensible at the time: She went to her bedroom, closed the door, and hoped that somehow she would disappear.
The next morning there was no sign of the bat. Mrs. Wait Dowd had left her cat, Ginny, in the kitchen overnight, but it wasn't clear that the cat was getting the bat.
"I don't know if she killed it and destroyed all evidence," she said. "There was no crime scene."
Mrs. Wait Dowd is hardly alone. This time of year when the doors and windows stay open and young bats look for new homes is when they show up in homes.
Here's how to deal with such an uninvited guest.
There's a bat in my living room. How do I get it out?
You want to make sure the bat goes, so it's really important not to hide in another room and lose track, said Steph Stronsick, president of Pennsylvania Bat Rescue in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
Dim all interior lights, but do not switch them off. If you can, isolate the bat in a room, she said. Open windows and doors that lead outside. Leave the outdoor lights on as they will attract insects, which in turn will attract the bat outside.
If it doesn't work on its own, try a box, container, or net. But when you do, don't be surprised if it makes a chitterling sound – a sign of its displeasure.
"Bats are like humans: they panic and cannot calm down," said Ms. Stronsick.
Many bats cannot get off the ground or off the ground, which can give them the upper hand when they catch, said Joy M. O’Keefe, former director of the Bat Research, Public Relations and Conservation Center at Indiana State University.
Ms. Stronsick said bats generally need to fall from a height of five to ten feet to get into the air.
Ideally, release a bat at dusk near a tree that it can climb. Bats that are released during the day are more likely to be attacked by predators.
Bats have a great appetite for flying insects at night and are part of a healthy ecosystem. So be careful not to damage their wings – or worse, kill them.
Why do bats come into the house?
Generally, this happens accidentally through an open door or window, or because they live in other parts of a house and find their way into living quarters, Ms. O'Keefe said.
Bats that show up in our homes really aren't interested in being there, said Merlin D. Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International. Often they are lost youngsters, he said.
Young bats don't know any better, said Frau Stronsick. She compared them to teenagers learning to drive: they are still figuring out how to get around.
Waiting. Bats could live in my house?
Their traditional habitats – dead or old trees – have been thinned out, leaving bats to shelter in the attics and eaves of houses, said Carl Herzog, a wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Colonies with an average of 20 bats are generally more likely to be found in older homes, which have more cracks and crevices as access points, than in newer constructions.
"They are not very good at finding their way out," said Herzog. "The bats are essentially trapped in your home."
How would I know if I have a bat colony?
Stand outside 10 minutes before sunset to 20 minutes after it and look for rooms where bats might appear, such as attics, soffits and eaves, said Ms. O'Keefe. An energy audit will reveal crevices that need to be isolated – likely the very places where bats enter.
Before you cover any openings, however, you should put in a one-way exclusion mesh or foil that will allow bats to escape but not re-enter. Wait a week for all of the bats to emerge before filling or sealing crevices with foam, Herzog said.
Fortunately, unlike rodents, bats don't chew through walls to gain entry or chew on electrical cables, Tuttle said, adding that the only permanent solution to keeping bats out is exclusion.
Never seal off entry points where bats could be trapped, he added. Flightless hatchlings can be present from mid-April to mid-August, but most bats migrate into winter.
Can bats really squeeze into tiny spaces?
Last year Ms. Wait Dowd discovered a fanned bat wing in the half-inch space under her apartment door and pushed it into the hall with a Swiffer mop.
She put a box on it and waited an hour – she said she was trying to get nerves – before sliding a mat under the box to release the bat outside.
When she took the box outside, however, the bat was gone. A few days later, across the hall, her neighbor said she found the bat dead in her bathroom.
Three-quarters of an inch is enough space to house two bats, which like to congregate in tight spaces to conserve heat and protect themselves from predators, Ms. O'Keefe said.
Do bats pose a health risk to humans?
Researchers recently used genetic analysis to attribute the likely origin of the novel coronavirus to horseshoe bats. But to blame bats as sources of all uniquely dangerous diseases is out of place and "based on biased sampling combined with premature speculation," Tuttle said.
"For anyone who simply doesn't handle bats, the risk of developing a disease is extremely low," he said. "In America we have been warned about bat rabies repeatedly, but bat rabies is extremely rare, only one or two cases a year in all of the US and Canada combined."
Dr. Matthew G. Heinz, an internist in Tucson, Arizona, also warned that bat bites "like any animal bite, can lead to a nasty bacterial infection."
Aside from a bite, a person who has skin-to-skin contact with a bat should be recorded and tested, according to wildlife biologist Herzog. If this is not possible, the person should contact health authorities for rabies treatments.
If a bat is discovered where someone has slept or near a person who cannot communicate – for example, a baby – the assumption should be that the person was exposed and should be treated for rabies, Herzog said.
People with weakened immune systems could be prone to histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that has roots in deposits of bat guano, although such cases are "relatively rare," Herzog said.