News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Tales from a Sisters Naturalist - Going Batty in Bend

If you haven’t spent time with bats, you’ve missed out on knowing some very lovely and helpful animals that share this beautiful old earth with us — our home away from home.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Central Oregon’s bats way back in the early 1950s when I met up with one of our wonderful epidemiologists, scientists who keep an eye on diseases transmitted to humans through wildlife.

The Bend paper had run a story on the front page about closing Brothers School because of a rabid coyote dying in the schoolyard. I was reading the story while eating my supper in Polly’s Café, where I ate my breakfast, lunch, and supper, and remarked to the guy seated next to me that a coyote with rabies had caused the closing of Brothers School.

“Oh, that wasn’t rabies,” he replied, “that was 1080, a poison used to kill coyotes.”

That remark, and the conversation that followed, were what got me deeper into Oregon’s wildlife almost 80 years ago.

The guy introduced himself to me, stating he was studying rabies and would soon be capturing bats from our caves to check for rabies. At that moment any possibility of our forming a friendship vanished.

“No you’re not!” I said, very forcefully. “We don’t have enough bats to play that game with!”

And that, dear reader, started a discussion that neither of us would ever forget. He argued that it was vital to know the rabies situation in our bats, and I argued that if I found a dead bat he would be the first to know, but he was not going to collect any from our caves for any reason — period!

Not more than a month prior to meeting that epidemiologist in Polly’s, I had met Bend resident and caver Phil Coyner. Phil fostered a love of bats in me when he introduced me to the little brown bats and the amazing Townsend’s big-eared bats that sheltered in the lava caves close to Bend.

Phil and I spent hours watching those bats flashing through air scooping up insects in their webbed tails, and I knew that mosquitos were among the insects they were gobbling up. There was no way anyone was going to capture and kill those remarkable animals, for any reason.

Back in the ’70s bat researchers got the idea of banding bats with a small aluminum band imprinted with a series of numerals to keep them separate from bird banding, so I got into it in a big way. I had been banding birds since 1962, mostly raptors, and felt like I might be able to help to learn more about bats in this way.

I decided to use a little- known cave near Bend to set up nets for capturing bats, but found it far easier to capture bats hibernating in the cave than to trap them.

For 10 years I banded bats in several caves near Bend, but in that one specific cave I banded a Townsend’s big-eared male who came back to that cave to spend the winter for 10 years. Each year I’d enter the cave with my big flashlight, and each year I’d find my old pal sleeping in almost the same spot. There was no need to wake him up; I just got as close as I dared to look him over for scars or signs of problems, leave him as he was, and depart.

On the 11th year I found him dead on the floor of his winter bedroom. Someone had shot him. Yes, I cried at the loss and felt so badly about the bat and the poor person who killed him, wondering why — and still do.

One of the best ”gems” I ever got from banding bats came to me 20 years after we quit the project. I received a call from the biologist of the Fort Rock District of the Deschutes National Forest with a question: “Hey Jim, are you still banding bats? The reason I’m asking is I found a banded bat today out in (such-and-such) cave.” He then gave me the number, which turned out to be a little brown bat I had banded 20-years earlier.

If you would like to place a bat roost on your home or outbuilding, send me a note at [email protected] and I’ll send you the plans for making one.


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