Kitimat Bats

Photo Credit: USFWS/Ann Froschauer

Kitimat Bats

👤Dennis Horwood 🕔May 01, 2017

Bats have been living in the Kitimat townsite for decades. Residents have long reported bats foraging around street lights, hiding under cedar shingles or occasionally finding their way into attics. The sightings were almost always of one or two individuals. So, when the District of Kitimat announced the demolition of the 60-year-old Cadet Hall, no one was quite prepared for what followed.

The Cadet Hall was a long, narrow building originally designed as a bunkhouse in the 1950s. Although once a busy place, the hall had been more or less abandoned for about 10 years. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, however, some new seasonal tenants had moved in. 

One long-time Kitimat resident knew there were more than a few dozen bats living in the Kildala neighbourhood. During his evening walks, he noticed numerous bats flying at dusk amongst the trees and buildings. His curiosity took over. With patience and many nightly observations, he tracked the bats back to the gabled ends of the hall.

Knowing the hall’s demolition was imminent, he contacted the Kitimat Valley Naturalists to alert its members about the bats. Within 24 hours, an evening vigil was enacted.  Two members stood patiently at each end of the hall and counted bats as they emerged for their evening foray. No one but the counters could believe the numbers. At least 1,500 bats left the building in 30 minutes. On subsequent nights with additional observers, the number of nocturnal mammals leaving the roost remained consistent. The original count was correct—this was a huge colony of bats. 

The confirmation of such large numbers triggered both interest and concern. At least two different species were using the roost and the naturalist group wondered if the little brown myotis, listed as endangered in the Species at Risk Act, was present. What would happen to these bats when the building was demolished? Immediate action was required. 

The Kitimat council, District of Kitimat staff, and the BC Community Bat Program were notified. Knowledgeable bat biologists said this was likely a maternity roost, meaning the bats would be females with young. Since newborn pups don’t fly right away, the actual bat numbers would be much higher. This was one of the largest bat colonies in the province. Kitimat Naturalists and district staff quickly agreed that expert advice on how to mitigate the loss of bat habitat was needed. Enter Felix Martinez, a Vancouver-based bat expert. 

After two days of on-site observations and discussions, Martinez recommended that two bat condos be built and located as close as possible to the old hall. Bat condos are considerably smaller than an attic but are designed to accommodate large numbers of bats. House-like in outward appearance, they’re filled with dozens of baffles for roosting as well as passageways for entering and exiting. The whole structure is mounted on five-metre wooden posts in a location with plenty of sunlight and unobstructed flight paths. Bats like to be warmed by solar radiation and usually avoid branches or other obstacles that inhibit easy access to a roost. 

Martinez also suggested the condos should be completed well before the bats return and March 31 was set as the target date to have everything in place. In less than five months, Kitimat council authorized funding, the design was chosen, and a contractor was hired to build two units. In late March, mild weather presented the first good opportunity to dig the holes, pour concrete, and erect the condos. 

The bats will return, but it’s uncertain if they will make the transition to a new roost. To encourage them to adopt the new home, weathered wood from the walls and attic of the Cadet Hall was incorporated into the condos during construction. Bat guano was also spread inside to help mask the smell of fresh plywood and maybe act as a fragrant attraction. 

Will these “tricks” work? For now, we wait. 

— Dennis Horwood