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.
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.
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.
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.
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