156 baby bats admitted… at the same time

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

One hundred and fifty-six Brazilian free-tailed bats were among the 191 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week.

Staff at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital received a call from a homeowner who noticed a number of baby bats on a tree in her yard. A thunderstorm the previous afternoon caused a dead palm tree flower stalk to fall to the ground bringing the baby bats down along with it.

Bats are considered a high risk rabies vector species so the homeowner was advised to wait for hospital staff to handle the situation.

When staff arrived they saw several baby bats clinging to the trunk of the palm tree. The flower stalk was inspected and, although there were many baby bats on the stalk, all were dead because the stalk had been run over by a car. Hospital staff collected all the babies and separated the live babies from the deceased.

While searching for any remaining babies, Wildlife Hospital Manager Jonee Miller heard bat vocalizations coming from a nearby ficus hedge across the street. A look inside the hedge showed numerous groups of baby bats clinging to the branches of the hedge.

Hospital staff surmised that strong winds from the storm blew the babies from high in the palm tree across the street into the ficus.

Before taking action, hospital staff called wildlife photographer Ralph Arwood for his input since Arwood has worked with bat experts and bat researchers throughout Florida. Arwood agreed — the most likely scenario was that the babies were blown into the ficus and needed to be returned to the palm tree across the street to be reunited with the rest of the colony.

Using ladders, Arwood and Miller gathered the bats from the ficus. Once collected, the bats were taken to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital to receive physical exams. Of the 156 bats collected from the scene, 43 were deceased when found. Two babies were severely injured and needed to be humanely euthanized. The remaining 111 bats were in good condition and were candidates for re-nesting.

The bat colony had luck on its side — City of Naples Fire Department Station 2 is located across the street from their roost tree. The fire department eagerly helped Wildlife Hospital staff return all 111 babies to the palm tree later that afternoon.

More bats

Although exhausting, our bat work for the day was not done. At about 6pm, the wildlife hospital received a call regarding a downed bat box at the Naples Beach Hotel Golf Course. Again, Ralph Arwood was called into service. Arwood, along with his wife Gisela Sabertschnig, agreed to assess the situation at the golf course to determine the appropriate action required.

The bat box was quite large and it was estimated to be housing approximately four hundred bats. From previous experience, Arwood knew that adult bats would continue caring for their babies if the bat box could be placed a decent height off the ground.

A large Banyan tree provided the perfect place to set the fallen box. Check-ups over the next several days showed activity at the box indicating the adult bats were indeed returning to care for their young.

The concern and effort Fire Department Station 2, and Ralph and Gisela showed gave two populations of bats a second chance to raise their young. We were incredibly grateful for their help.

Recent Releases — 52 Animals Returned Home

  • 1 gopher tortoise
  • 3 peninsula cooters
  • 4 mourning doves
  • 1 northern mockingbird
  • 3 common grackles
  • 7 eastern cottontails
  • 3 blue jays
  • 1 yellow-bellied turtle
  • 1 Florida red-bellied turtle
  • 1 osprey
  • 3 burrowing owls
  • 10 mottled ducks
  • 1 Virginia opossum
  • 1 common nighthawk
  • 2 swallow-tailed kites
  • 1 Florida softshell turtle
  • 9 banded armadillo

Several of the releases were extremely rewarding. A burrowing owls was released after nine months of rehab. The owl had sustained significant neurological damage after being struck by a vehicle on Marco Island. It was incredibly special to see the owl fly off after so many months of care.

Left: Burrowing owl admitted with neurological issues. Right: Owl released 9 months later

The two swallow-tailed kite releases were particularly exciting since kites are rare admissions at the hospital. One kite was released with several members from Bonita Springs Utilities in attendance. The utilities crew rescued the young kite when they saw the young bird walking down the road.

The second kite was released with the help of Ian Orlikoff from Signature Tree Care. Ian placed the kite high in a tree using a bucket truck. Kites are aerialists; with Orlikoff’s help returning to the tree, the kite easily took flight and soared high into the sky.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239–262–2273 or see conservancy.org

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