British Columbia

Bat-loving B.C. couple spend 127 consecutive nights counting the nocturnal fliers

It all started when Linda Crossley asked her husband George to build a house for the bats that frequent their backyard. Now, the duo's hobby is helping the province collect data on the winged mammals.

George and Linda Crossley's hobby now helps the province collect population data

George and Linda Crossley live just outside of Williams Lake, B.C., and are participants in the BC Community Bat Program's annual bat count. (Bill Gilroy)

It all started when Linda Crossley asked her husband George if he could build a little house for the bats she loved to watch fly around their backyard at night.

George, knowing how much his wife enjoyed her evening activity, was happy to Google bat house building plans and make it happen.

Little did they both know their hobby would become a big help to the provincial government.

A few years after George installed that first bat house, Linda spotted a notice in the local paper asking for volunteers to participate in the BC Community Bat Program. Participants needed to count bats at the same time, in the same spot, regularly and report those tallies to the provincial government.

The count helps bat biologists know how many bats emerge from their roosts each year.

mysterious fungal disease called white-nose syndrome has decimated North American bat populations, killing millions.

Bats with white-nose syndrome hang in a cave. The deadly fungal disease has wiped out millions of bats across eastern Canada. (Province of Alberta)

 In 2019, the syndrome was detected in bats in seven Canadian provinces and Washington State but not yet in B.C.

Linda had already been counting the nocturnal critter traffic in their yard out of interest and keeping records on a home calendar. The Crossley's volunteered for the program and started counting for an official purpose.

And count they did. This year, starting in April, the couple counted for 127 consecutive days. The nightly numbers can be in the hundreds, with the Crossley's saying a higher than normal count was about 400.

There are two bat houses in the yard now and Linda keeps an eye on one while George counts activity in and out of the other. Sometimes they engage in friendly competition, but there is never a consistent champ.

"One night I'll have more, and one night George will have more, so we are kind of joking they are having a sleepover," said Linda with a laugh.

One of two bat houses on the Crossley's property where bats can roost during the day. George Crossley used three boxes stacked inside each other with grooves in the sides of the boxes for the animals to hang onto. To find out how to build one yourself, visit (Bill Gilroy)

There are 16 species of bats in B.C., but they're not all found in all areas of the province. The Crossley's believe it is little brown bats they are counting.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, bats of this species weigh only seven to fourteen grams and have a wingspan of 22-27 centimetres. In 2014, the species was added to the federal government's at risk registry.

But the bats in the Crossley's backyard appear to be having a pretty good time, munching on moths and mosquitoes and teaching their young pups to fly.

"It's kind of like a ski boat pulling a water skier," said Linda, painting a visual of mama bat trailed by a baby.

Little Brown Bats were listed as a species at risk several years ago. (Jordi Segers)

The week leading up to Halloween is Bat Week, an annual international celebration to raise awareness about bat conservation.

Linda says often people associate bats with scary movies and creepy abandoned buildings, but there is really nothing to be afraid of.

Plus George has a practical reason for welcoming the sometimes misconceived winged mammals to the yard:

"Think how many more mosquitoes those guys are getting for us."

Tap here to listen to Linda and George Crossley talk bats on CBC's Daybreak North.