Bat spotting in Northern Ireland
Small, furry, flying mammals, bats are commonly associated with Hallowe'en, Dracula and things that go 'boo' in the night. But in reality these harmless animals play a vital part in the food chain and faced with a loss of habitat, they need our help...
Bat are the only flying mammals in the world – like other mammals they have fur, are warm blooded and suckle their young. There are 18 species of bats in the UK, eight of which can be found in Northern Ireland: Common pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle, Nathusius’s pipistrelle, Leisler’s bat, Brown long-eared bat, Whiskered bat, Daubenton’s bat, Natterer’s bat.
Globally, the bat population is in decline due to loss of roosts, loss of feeding habitat and food, pollution and bad weather at critical times.
In Nothern Ireland however the figures are more positive with strong numbers across the species being reported. This is thanks to the work of the National Trust, local government and groups such as the Northern Ireland Bat Group to preserve and protect their roosting sites and feeding environments.
Where to spot bats
The best places to spot bats in Northern Ireland are Crom, Florence Court, Ardress House, Minnowburn, Castle Ward, Springhill, Rowallane Garden and Mount Stewart. Crom is our top bat site with all eight of the bat species roosting here, often in huge numbers. In one recent bat survey 1200 Soprano pipistrelles were counted in one roost at Crom.
We hold regular bat spotting nights during the late summer months. Keep an eye on our events page for details.
What do bats eat?
Bats feed on insects caught in flight or picked off water, the ground or foliage. They are an important part of the food chain and help keep pest numbers controlled. During summer, they consume vast numbers - one pipistrelle may eat up to 3,500 insects each night. Bats have good eyesight which they use to navigate but they also have a super power – sonar. High-frequency sounds are emitted which enable bats to 'see' a few meters into the distance, even in complete darkness. You will often see them twisting and turning during flight as they notice insects or obstacles close to them.
Where do bats live?
Bats will roost in buildings, caves and hollow trees. Each bat species has its own preferred type of roost, usually near its favourite food source. Despite what you may see in the movies, bats don’t really like dirty, dusty, cobwebbed buildings, preferring to roost in clean and fairly draught-free buildings. Creatures of habit, bat colonies tend to return to their favourite roosting site year after year.
Roosting sites are particularly busy during June to August when females congregate in nursery roosts to have their young. Young bats can fly by three weeks and are weaned by five weeks. With their young raised and limited food source available during winter, bats hibernate from October – April.
Bats and the law
Bats and their roosting sites are protected by law in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985. This means that bats and their roosts cannot be disturbed at any time, in any place without a licence. For more information visit https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/wildlife-licensing