Bats in the Pigeonnier

Nyctalus noctula bat

Thanks to this week’s warm spell, signs of spring are everywhere, although somewhat later than usual. Our daffodils suddenly burst into flower one morning, clumps of tiny, brilliant purple violets have appeared on the lawn, the dawn chorus is tuning up again and butterflies and bees are venturing outside. And the bats have come out of hibernation.

Going batty

We were first aware of this when, on going to bed one evening, we realised that we were not alone. A rather large bat was flitting about in our bedroom, prior to hanging upside-down from one of the roof beams. This is not uncommon. Our pigeonnier (dovecot) is integral to the house and its top floor is adjacent to our bedroom. The bats seem to use the pigeonnier as a beacon, probably because the warm stone attracts insects, and chase moths through the open window.

They also roost in our barn and in the roof space of our bolet, or covered balcony. There’s a tell-tale sprinkling of bat droppings underneath where they hang, which means that we have to move the table when we want to eat. When the SF’s grandchildren were much smaller and came to stay, one of the evening’s entertainments was to be the first to see the bats emerging as dusk fell. And, sure enough, like something out of Star Wars, they swooped out to great acclaim every evening to start hunting.

Endangered species

I’m always pleased to see bats since it means that the local ecosystem is reasonably well-balanced. Almost everywhere, bat populations are under threat because their roosts are being destroyed and owing to intensive farming and the widespread use of pesticides. In addition, they have low reproduction rates. Since it’s mostly pasture around here there are plenty of insects and enough ruined buildings and woodland to accommodate the bats.

Bats are protected in France, as they are in some other countries. In fact, I discovered an organisation called EUROBATS , which was founded to protect the species and to promote bat research and understanding. An ‘Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats’ came into force in 1994, although I was sorry to note that a number of countries still haven’t signed it.

Bat facts

Apparently, bats have been around for 50 million years, which rather makes homo sapiens pale into insignificance. Fifty-two species of bat have been identified in Europe. France counts 29 species, of which two are in danger of extinction and 12 are vulnerable. A bat is une chauve-souris (lit. bald mouse) in French. I couldn’t begin to tell you which species ‘our’ bat belongs to, except that like all bats it wasn’t exactly an oil painting. It waggled its over-sized ears continuously, picking up echoes from its ultrasonic calls. It could be a nyctalus noctula, like the one in the picture above, one of the vulnerable species.

I hadn’t realised that some species of bat migrate but, of course, like birds they need to go where the food supply is. Bats’ daily nutritional requirement is up to a third of their bodyweight – that’s a lot of insects.

Every year, EUROBATS organises ‘European Bat Night’ in 30 countries, which includes talks, presentations and bat walks. There’s also the opportunity to use special equipment to hear the bats’ calls, which are normally too high-pitched for the human ear to pick up. This year’s event is on 25th-26th August.

Being protected, bats should not be handled in the normal course of events. They are not aggressive and avoid contact with humans. But they can carry a strain of rabies, although this is apparently rare. The advice is to wear thick gardening gloves to avoid being bitten if you have to pick up an injured bat.

Much as I like bats, I draw the line at sharing my bedroom with one. The SF got the fly swat and gently flapped at the bat, without touching it. The bat got the message and flitted through the window, whereupon we quickly put up the mosquito screen. Sorry, bat, but there’s a whole barn for you to go in undisturbed as well.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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8 Responses to Bats in the Pigeonnier

  1. This is an interesting story. We have bats here in Alabama but as you said, I have no idea what kind they are. I usually see them just as evening is approaching. I’ve only ever seen maybe three flying around. I’ve never been afraid of them as I know I am not very tasty for them 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

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    • nessafrance says:

      People are often afraid of bats because of the vampire connection. However, very few species of bat are actually vampires and they don’t attack humans! They are fascinating animals.

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  2. They are unfortunate looking creatures and it’s a pity they’ve gained a bad reputation, well, a sinister one at least. In the early days at this house, Leaf was up a ladder taking down shutters to be painted. He very nearly fell off when, lifting a shutter off its hinges, he disturbed a crowd of bats clinging to the wall behind. They took off over his head. He went very warily after that. I wasn’t aware bats were under threat, although it figures with today’s widespread use of pesticides. Wildlife is disappearing before our eyes, it’s tragic.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Behind a shutter is a favourite place (as it is for bees) since they are usually undisturbed. Some species of bat seem to resist better than others but because they generally eat insects they are under the same kind of threat as birds.

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  3. We had bats too and despite the warnings to visitors to keep the shutters across in the evenings, there was always someone who forgot, so we would have the inevitable nocturnal squawks from someone trying to find an unfamiliar loo in the night and encountering a bat or two on the landings.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Since we sleep upstairs and the visitors downstairs I think it’s generally we who have had to run the gauntlet of these nocturnal visitors. I can imagine that for people who aren’t used to them it could be quite frightening. People are always afraid of colliding with bats but they ‘see’ us far better than we see them.

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  4. We’ve always had masses of bats wherever we’ve lived in France, on the river bank, in the pine forest of Les Landes and in the vines, the only place we didn’t was when we rented a house for a few months when we first arrived here and we were eaten to bits by mosquitos there, so they obviously do a good job. They do look evil close to though, all those teeth, it’s no wonder they’re a staple of Hammer Horror Films.

    I agree with you about bats in the bedroom, I was told by someone who knows about bats that in fact they’re pretty tough and it’s quite difficult to hurt them when trying to shoo them out.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Close to, they are not things of beauty. As you say, no wonder they have an undeserved reputation. They do a brilliant job of keeping the insect population down. Because of the cattle here, we get enough flies and other insects as it is. Without bats, it would be intolerable.

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