AUSTIN BAT WATCHING 101
Starting in late March and continuing through early fall, Austin welcomes nearly 1.5 million bats - North America's largest urban bat population - under the Congress Avenue Bridge. When the bridge was built in the 1980s, folks didn't realize the crevices under the bridge resembled model bat roosting nooks.
Decades later, Austin bat numbers have swelled and locals have adopted the beloved creatures as neighbors who happily handle the city's bug mitigation and provide an amazing nightly show.
Austin's resident bats are Mexican free-tailed bats, which migrate each spring from central Mexico to various roosts all over the southwestern U.S.
On their nightly flights the bats eat anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects, including mosquitos and harmful agricultural pests.
Austin's bats are almost all female! In early June each bat gives birth to one single baby bat (known as a pup).
It takes about 5 weeks after birth for the pups to learn to fly and hunt insects on their own. In the meantime, the mommy bats nurse their babies and can locate her own pup among the thousands under the bridge.
At the end of the season, you can see roughly 1.5 milliom bats ascending into the summer sky.
See the Bats
The best time to go:
The bats begin to wake up and start their night flight around sunset. The first few bats begin to trickle out from under the bridge then. After the sun sets, the show really begins, and hundreds to thousands of bats pour out and cascade over Lady Bird Lake.
Around sunset, but anywhere from 7:30 to 9:45 p.m. It can take as long as 45 minutes for all of the bats to exit the bridge for the night.
Where to watch:
1. On the sidewalk facing east, on top of the Congress Avenue Bridge. Arrive early for a front row spot. The sidewalk gets crowded.
2. At the Statesman Bat Observation Center adjacent to the Congress Bridge (the grassy hill just down the steps at the corner of Congress Ave. and Barton Springs Rd.) Bring a blanket, some chairs and sit back and relax.
3. Take a bat cruise. Austin offers many wonderful cruise options like Lone Star Riverboat or Capital Cruises, which both offer bat-watching cruises.
4. From the trail. There are many spots along the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail where you can stand to enjoy the view.
5. Rent a kayak, SUP board, canoe or water bike and join the other aquatic adventurers that float around under the bridge around sunset. You can even take a kayak bat tour with Live, Love, Paddle.
Learn more at Bat Conservation International.
Mark Your Calendar: 11th Annual Bat Fest
4 p.m. to midnight
Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
Admission: $10; kids under 8 free
1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the bridge at dusk, three stages with live music, more than 75 arts and crafts vendors, delicious food and drinks, fun children's activities, a bat costume contest and other bat activities.