Jul 11, 2010

Bat Houses - Good or Bad for your Yard

 If you've ever watched a fruit bat weave it's magic in the skies of dusk you must admit it is a special creature.The US Military would love to have a drone that has  it's aerodynamic capability.
Even though they are fun to watch bats can also consume a great deal of insects and act as a natural predator. But are they good for your yard or a nuisance. The answer may be both.

Some local governments in South Florida are encouraging residents to build bat boxes (think birdhouse on stilts) as part of a broader effort to promote environmentally friendly landscapes. Similar efforts have taken flight in Central Florida. For years, cities throughout the region have set up bat houses as an eco-friendly and cost-effective way to deal with the urban bats that tend to congregate in vacant buildings and homes.

The goal for both regions is to cut down on pesticides and fertilizers, conserve water and protect flora and fauna threatened by the proliferation of shopping malls and condos.

 Bats consume their weight each night in insects, including mosquitoes and agricultural pests.
"If it flies at night, a bat will eat them," said Finn, who owns Fly By Night Inc. in Osteen. Her nonprofit focuses on bat research, population management and public education. Finn has built and installed numerous bat houses, including in DeLand, Sanford and Tavares and at the University of Central Florida.

The state Legislature last year encouraged local governments to adopt rules that foster environmentally sustainable practices. Such a plan must be in place before the South Florida Water Management District will issue water-use permits. In Central Florida, the district manages areas of Polk, Osceola and Orange counties.

But some worry that bats will upend Florida's delicate ecosystem and threaten humans with rabies and other diseases.

Still, the idea of luring bats to densely populated neighborhoods is not exactly flying high in South Florida. Officials in Pembroke Pines will recommend that commissioners approve a landscape plan that omits any mention of bat houses. Coconut Creek may follow suit in the coming months, followed by Hollywood in the next two years.

Efforts in Central Florida, however, have met with success.

Deltona installed a small cedar bat house behind City Hall atop a 30-foot pole last year. The house can hold 300 to 500 bats. Sanford officials hired Finn to build and install three houses. One is on the lake side of City Hall. Two more were built at Centennial Park, where bats were nesting in hollow beams in the gazebo.

"There was bat guano all over the gazebo floor. It was a mess," said parks and grounds operations manager Marc Hultin.

The bat houses were a "cost-effective" way to evict the nocturnal creatures, he said. The locals don't even notice the bat houses about 20 feet above ground, he added. "I don't think they disturb anybody."

Conservationists say bat boxes, used in Florida since at least the 1920s, are seeing a resurgence at condominiums and parks. One of the longest-standing bat houses in Florida sits at the end of a cul-de-sac on Sugar Loaf Key. The circa-1920s bat box was installed by a developer who hoped to wipe out mosquitoes and attract new residents to the area.

At dusk some evenings, crowds gape as bats fill the sky around University of Florida's bat house, which, with more than 100,000 bats, is said to be the world's largest. The 20-foot high bat house — with 180 highly coveted dark crevices — went up in 1991 to keep bats away from the stadium. The university installed a second "bat barn" in the same field this year.

"Bats are a vital part of our ecology," said Cyndi Marks, executive director of the Florida Bat Conservancy, based in St. Petersburg. "A lot of people think of them as rats, but they're not. You will only have as many bats as you have insects — it's the only thing they eat in Florida."

non color green portions from Eloísa Ruano González who can be reached at egonzalez@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6673.

For all types of sustainable products and green goods visit Conservastore.com

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