Citizen scientists are being asked to help determine the effectiveness of bat boxes

Published: March 30, 2021 · Updated: April 1, 2021

a bat box Photo courtesy of The Canadian Bat Box Project

Do you have a bat box at your cottage? If so, the Canadian Bat Box Project needs your help. Karen Vanderwolf, a PhD student at Trent University, and her project partners at the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, are calling on citizen scientists from across the country to help better understand how effective bat boxes are and to determine best practices for their design and placement.

North American bats have been devastated by an invasive fungal infection known as white-nose syndrome that’s killed millions of bats since it was first detected in New York State in 2006. Forestry and suburban sprawl have also reduced the number of large trees they naturally roost in. Three species — little brown, northern long-eared, and tricoloured bats — are listed as endangered in Canada. Installing bat boxes has been touted as a way for home and cottage owners to help them out. 

Photo courtesy of The Canadian Bat Box Project

 Yet most of the data on bat box usage in North America comes from the U.S. “Of the 18 bat species found in Canada, there are 13 species that we know use bat boxes in the U.S. But, in Canada, only three have been documented using them regularly: big brown, little brown, and Yuma,” says Vanderwolf.

Participants are asked to complete a multiple-choice questionnaire about their location, and the characteristics of their bat box(es) — dimensions, materials used in its construction, the height it’s mounted, its orientation in relation to the sun, and so on. 

Then, participants are asked to conduct an “emergence survey” at least four times a month from May through October. To do so, simply find a comfortable seat where you can monitor the bat box(es) at dusk, and then keep a tally of the number of bats that emerge.

If you’re interested and able to be a little more involved, there are two other aspects to the project. One is to install a micro-climate logger in your bat box(es) that will record hourly temperature and humidity levels. The logger will collect and store this data over the course of the summer and then participants will be asked to remove and return the logger in the fall. 

The other part of the project involves gathering guano samples. Still with us? The project team will send participants sample collecting kits. These pellets will then be tested in a lab to analyze the DNA and conclusively determine which species is using the box. 

From the roughly 700 people who’ve filled in the survey so far, Vanderwolf has tallied that only about 20 percent have seen bats using their boxes. “Even if you don’t have any bats in your box, that data is also valuable,” she says.  

Don’t have any bat boxes? You can buy them or watch this video clip to learn how to make your own. 

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