During the summer, hundreds of people come to Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge every night. The reason is quite peculiar – they come here to observe a bat colony taking off from under the bridge towards the night sky. The show is really spectacular, considering that Austin’s bat colony is the largest urban colony of bats on the planet. It’s estimated that there are more than 1.5 million of them sleeping under the bridge during daytime.
At this point, you might wonder what makes the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, so attractive place for these bats. Well, the story goes that when the bridge was reconstructed in 1980, its architects made a number of crevices beneath it. They had a whole different purpose in mind but ended up creating a perfect place for the bats to roost.
Just four years after its completion, a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats made this bridge they home. Of course, you won’t be surprised to hear that the new tenants caused a real panic among the citizens of Austin. Some of them even organized a petition to eradicate the colony, fearing that the bets might spread some diseases or start biting people like real vampires.
Luckily, there was the Bat Conservation International to protect the bets. Its founder, Merlin Tuttle, brought the organization to Texas in order to deal with the issue. The people from the BCI then started a vigorous campaign with the intention of educating the people from Austin about how benevolent these creatures actually are.
It’s needless to say that their efforts paid off. The bats are still living under the bridge, while the locals are getting a lot of money from the tourists that come to visit this attraction. In fact, about 100,000 tourists from all over the United States come during the summer months to watch the bats in action. Speaking of tourists, if you would like to see this attraction in person, we’re gonna now explain you how.
How to See Austin Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge?
Each year in spring, a huge number of Mexican free-tailed bats migrate from Mexico to Texas. A big percentage of them are pregnant females, ready to give birth in a few months’ time. That’s why they’re in a need of a safe place to roost and for nearly two million of them, the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin seems like the perfect place.
The bat pups get born in the early days of summer, so their parents need to go out hunting insects every night. This is why each day at sunset you can observe them emerge from underneath the bridge and flying together in search for food. Usually, the time for the bat take off is between 6 and 7 PM.
It usually takes them about 45 minutes fully emerge from the crevices under the bridge. On top of that, they tend to stay in the air for several hours, during which you can watch them fly around. What this means that Austin bat observing can be an activity that takes your entire evening.
Best Viewing Sites
Probably the best spot for bat watching is the walkway on the east side of the bridge. Not only will you be able to see them taking off, but you’ll also have a good view of the bats as they’re flying towards the Lady Bird Lake, which is where they hunt the most. This means that they will move from the bridge towards the east, flying over Rainey Street Historic District.
What might be a problem with this location is that it tends to get too crowdy sometimes. Everyone knows that it’s the perfect place for watching the bets, which is why dozens of tourists line up on the walkway. If you think that the crowd will make you feel uncomfortable, you might consider going to the hillside just below the bridge.
This is a place where you can set up a picnic. Simply spread out a blanket and enjoy the attraction on the sky. The good news is that if you choose this location, the fun won’t last too long. You will get an amazing view of the bats taking off, but they will soon disappear behind the trees on their way to the lake. There’s another problem people have with this location – as the bats go flying right above your head, the chance is that you’re gonna get some bat poo all over you.
The View from the Water
Rather than watching the bat show from the bank, why not do it from the water? If you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent a kayak or a small boat. There are several businesses renting them on the shoreline right next to the bridge. Usually, the rate is not more than 10 or 20 dollars per one hour.
If, on the other hand, you prefer convenience, a better solution seems to be getting on a tour boat. There are several operators that have these kinds of tours in their offer. Capital Cruises is one of them. This company offers several different deals, the cheapest of which costs only 10 dollars for adults, while there are discounts for children and seniors.
Should You Be Afraid of the Bats?
The bats from Austin are not your enemies. They won’t attack you – their primary source of food is insects. And if you think that they might harm you by accident, you should know that all bats use echolocation or bio-sonar. What this means is that they use a sort of radar-like system in order to detect objects around them. In layman’s terms, this means that there’s no chance a bat would fly into you by accident.
By using bio-sonar, bats find it easy to locate their prey, which consists mostly of insects such as flies, beetles, and moths. As you can see, bats are actually helping the citizens of Austin to get rid of the annoying pests without having to use any kind of dangerous pesticide.