Like it or not, it's bat season in Hamilton, and local animal control officials say there are more of them than usual.
Hundreds of bats are taking up residence in local attics and wall cavities, said Bill Dowd, president of Humane Wildlife Control. And they are more prolific this year.
“Traditionally, July is pretty slow and August is when we're busiest,” said Dowd, whose company is getting about 50 calls a day in Hamilton.
“We're a week or two ahead of schedule, so we have all hands on deck with bat season.”Bill Dowd, president of Humane Wildlife Control, shows the bat he removed from a John Street North home. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Dowd speculates that the warm weather this year has created prime conditions for bats and insects, which are their primary food source.
Cal Burnett, animal control services supervisor with the City of Hamilton, agrees.
Animal control services responds to cases where people have potentially been bitten or come into contact with bats. And the city has responded to an unusually high number of calls this summer, Burnett said.
Last July, the city got 23 calls about bats in people's homes, he said. So far this month, there have been 72. And July's numbers are typically dwarfed by the incidents in August.
“Whether it's the humidity or warmth, we don't know, but it is happening more often this year,” he said.
People think solitary bats fly into homes through windows and doors. But that is usually not the case, Dowd said.
Bats that appear in bedrooms and living rooms are likely young and just learning to fly. But there could be hundreds more savvy flyers in your attic, quietly hanging upside down in a dark, humid, hidden spot.
Often, they hide in ceilings or walls, Dowd said.
“We've been in attics where there are 300 bats and we don't even see one.”
The Cocchiara family on John Street North is just one of many to discover a bat in their home.
Rose Cocchiara was visiting her parents, Giovanni and Antonietta, on Monday morning when she climbed the stairs to the second level and saw a bat hanging in the corner by her old bedroom.Bill Dowd checks for places where bats can enter the home. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Bats appear in the house every other year, Cocchiara said. Two years ago, a bat frantically circled her old bedroom late at night while she slept in her bed. She awoke to her mother screaming.
She recalled her family's bat terrors Monday as Dowd stood on the family's front step, holding the bat in a plastic container.
“I just want it out,” she said.
Dowd inspected the home Monday morning to identify entry points and installed special “doorways” so the bats can fly out but not re-enter. Eventually, they will be gone.
As creepy as bats look, we learn a lot from them, said Paul Faure, a McMaster University psychologist.
In the McMaster Bat Lab, Faure studies how bats hear and echolocate. Every scientific discovery found in bats has later applied to other mammals, he said.
Cochlear implants, for example, were refined using what researchers learned from bats. The study of bats and echolocation has led to numerous manufacturing and robotics discoveries, he said.
“We study bats because they tell us a lot about the basic mechanisms of hearing.”
Because of its location, Hamilton has one of the highest bat populations in Ontario, Faure said. There are eight species of bat in the province and they are all found in Hamilton.
To dispel some myths, they aren't blind, Faure said. They don't get caught in people's hair. And aside from three species of vampire bat found in central and Latin America, they don't drink blood.
They can, however, carry health risks such as rabies and histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection. So it's best to remove them from your home, Dowd said.
Otherwise, “leave them alone and they'll leave you alone,” Faure said.
“They eat a lot of insects. They do good work for us.”