Overlooking Lady Bird Lake within Austin, Texas: Congress Bridge is the home of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. For decades bats have established themselves as one of the local mascots here. Plus they’ve now become a major tourist attraction from the months of March to November.
These Mexican free-tailed bats are small enough to fit in your hand, but large enough to easily be seen flying aloft in the sky in mass quantities. Sometimes they even make little cute and squeaky noises as they wake up and soar away from the bridge. Fuzzy and darkish brown with large ears and wings similar to Marvel Comics Batman logos, these migratory bats are born with “built-in GPS and night vision”. Many vivid photographs can be found online to see these bats hover and glide through the night alongside the reflections of water cascading from Lady Bird Lake and the bright lights of downtown. Every night during bat season, as time passes from sunset, to dusk, to twilight: The skies surrounding Congress Bridge become consumed with bats that always seem to travel together in the same direction each night.
Fortunately there are many local bat tours and city-wide destinations to discover and experience the best viewings of these nocturnal creatures; departing in millions every night beneath Congress Bridge before returning at dawn. Capital Cruises Internationally Famous Bat Watching Tour is a bat-related hotspot. The tour only costs $10 and they take out a infrared light that glows colors of reds into the sky. Making it quite easy for the human eye to capture the thousands of bats pouring out together. For locals and visitors alike, it’s a remarkable sight to see! Sitting on an electronic boat, watching millions of darkling beauties fly out to go hunting and gathering before sleeping again throughout the day is hypnotizing to watch. The flying formations these bats embark on, noticing how they move in giant masses of millions of fluttering wings, yet somehow remain graceful as they serpentine through the sky is an image you won’t forget.
According to Bat Conservation International, “When engineers reconstructed the Congress Avenue Bridge in 1980 they had no idea that new crevices beneath the bridge would make an ideal bat roost. Although bats had lived there for years, it was headline news when they suddenly began moving in by the thousands. Reacting in fear and ignorance, many people petitioned to have the bat colony eradicated. About that time, Merlin Tuttle brought BCI to Austin and told the city the surprising truth: that bats are gentle and incredibly sophisticated animals; that bat-watchers have nothing to fear if they don’t try to handle bats; and that on the nightly flights out from under the bridge, the Austin bats eat from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests. As the city came to appreciate its bats, the population under the Congress Avenue Bridge grew to be the largest urban bat colony in North America. With up to 1.5 million bats spiraling into the summer skies, Austin now has one of the most unusual and fascinating tourist attractions anywhere.”
In 2007, the city of Austin changed the name of the reservoir running beneath Ann W. Richards Congress Bridge from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake. The name change was a controversy in-and-of itself as the Former First Lady of the United States, nicknamed Lady Bird Johnson, was against the idea of naming this lake after her and wished for it to remain as is. However, when she passed away the city opted to change the reservoirs name in honor of all the hard work, dedication and endless support that Claudia Alta Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson bestowed upon the state of Texas. Particularly her involvement with the Town Lake Beautification Project in Austin, the state capital of The Lone Star State.
Thankfully these special and unique Mexican bats living on Lady Bird Lake beneath Congress Bridge are now forever protected by the city, solely because of individuals like Lady Bird Johnson and Merlin Tuttle. However, Austin’s love for bats exceeds far beyond Congress Bridge. Bat-related art can be found all over the city at many local gift shops. Franzetti Jewelers is a perfect example of a local company that has taken a mascot of the city and turned it into merchandise. Designing necklaces from a creature that some may not find to be the traditional definition of beauty into a work of art: Franzetti Jewelers offers Bat Pendant necklaces made of sterling silver, garnet, blue topaz, citrine, peridot, onyx, amethyst, smoky quartz and white quartz.
For more information regarding the Mexican free-tail bats of Austin and the best times to find them this summer and fall under Congress Bridge, please consult www.batcon.org.