Bats Awake in Winter?

Fawn and Heather. Photo by Lauren Clift, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator at the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

I met Nestor today. He is a tiny little guy, the size of a roundish thumb, but called a Big Brown Bat. There’s nothing big about him. Bat reputation is way larger than their tiny little bodies. They are only 15-25 grams! Smaller than a mouse.

I also met Ophelia and Fawn. And was reunited with Lady Macbeth, Miranda, and Leontas, who I weighed and fed last week. All of them are brown bats, except Leontas.

Last week Lady Macbeth was very vocal – not happy about being disturbed to be weighed and for her enclosure to be cleaned. Leontes had to be convinced to eat worms he doesn’t like and tricked into drinking calcium water from a tiny 1cc syringe. The third, Miranda, was a mover, a dancer – it took me a little longer to wrap her like a burrito in a tea towel to weigh her and clean her enclosure.  

Today, Nestor got a little bum rub to encourage him to move from his current hanging tea towel (destined for the laundry), to the clean tea towel I was trying to get him into. I wrapped him up to weight him and keep him contained for a short while as I cleaned his enclosure. He wasn’t happy about it – buzz-chirping his annoyance at me.

There’s no sound quite like a bat’s vocals. Sometimes it’s almost like a buzz or a crunch-squeak. Sometimes like a very quiet version of those old coil door stoppers that resonate when fwipped.  

Once I had removed and replaced Nestor’s tea towels, replaced fresh calcium water in an upturned baby jar lid, and had his mealworms ready, I placed him back into his enclosure. He chose to climb onto the back wall, and positioned himself head-down, bum-up. A pretty typical, comfortable, position.  

Nestor is learning to eat food from his dish, so I fed him one mealworm with the plastic tweezers. Then I brought the whole dish up to his face. He immediately started leaning into the dish to eat. He ate 9 more mealworms like that. I left him with 5 in the dish he could eat if he felt like it over night.

Bats should be asleep hibernating right now. So, on many of their charts, one of the problems or issues noted is “awake.” There are four of them, each in a small enclosure, in a humidity tent in the Songbird Room right now. And a few others being cared for in other rooms.

I had just finished up with Nestor when two volunteers taking Hot Dog, the snapping turtle, for a walk were in the hallway right outside the Songbird Room, where I was with the bats.

Hot Dog was a pet before coming to the TWC, not well cared for, and is a bit of a celeb around the TWC. He is now an education animal. Hot Dog gets exercise by occasionally going for accompanied walks around the building.

So I took a moment to encourage Hot Dog and the team, before returning into the Songbird Room to take care of Leontes.

Thanks to @nickisimms for the photos. TWC patients are rarely photographed by staff only, but Hot Dog is an education animal and public figure.

Leontes is a sweet little silver-haired bat, and a fussy eater. He came in to the TWC with bruising. This week I was able to sneak a few more phoenix worms and wax worms into his mouth as he was enjoying his mealworms. A bit of nutritious variety.

He clearly does not like anything but mealworms – sometimes he will just chew and spit out the others. He and the other bats have the cutest tiny tiny little pink tongue. Like all of us, they use it to move food as they eat, but Leontes also uses his little pink tongue to blech! out the food he doesn’t like.  

Miranda has been renamed Portia. Just for admin, nothing to do with the bat. None of the other patents at TWC are named. Only the bats. I don’t know why. Last week I had to feed Portia with the tweezers, and now she is eating on her own! It’s heartwarming to see a patient’s progress.

Ophelia is a patient because she was awake, dehydrated, and had mites when she arrived. Today, she just needed a cleaning, and fresh food and water. So I wrapped her up burrito-style in her tea towel, weighed her, and cleaned her enclosure.

Bats are so calm compared to songbirds! Tiny birds are fluttery and jittery and non-stop. Tiny bats mostly stay still or crawl a little, holding on to their towel or enclosure walls. And when they are wrapped up in a tea towel, they are perfectly fine resting on a table top as their enclosures are being cleaned, food and calcium water prepared, and charts updated.

Ophelia is the only one whose food is scattered on the floor of her enclosure. And as soon as she was returned to her clean enclosure, she scooted herself right down there and had a great time catching and eating up her dinner.

In a cool room (no heating) on the other side of the building, I met Fawn and was reunited with Lady Macbeth.

Fawn immediately crawled over to her food dish, and within minutes was bum-up, face first, in the dish, eating her dinner. Two little back legs and hind feet hanging on to the rim of the ceramic ramekin. Nomming joyfully.

Fawn had buzzed at me, assertively telling me to buzz off, a few minutes earlier. When I was capturing her to weigh her and clean her enclosure. And now, the whole time I was weighing Lady Macbeth, cleaning her enclosure and preparing her food, I could hear Fawn happily chip-chip-chip crunch-munching away.  

I had taken care of 6 bats, cleaned a racoon enclosure, moved a mallard and a snow goose into a new enclosure. Last thing of the day: I was asked to set up a new enclosure for a new patient.

A brown bat who had come in yesterday. She needed all new towels and a new enclosure. And she needed to be fed and set up in the Songbird room bat humidity tent.

After setting up the clean new enclosure, I wrapped up this new patient in a tea towel to feed her. But I had a hard time hand-feeding her with the large plastic tweezers. She turned her face away every time I placed food in front of her. She clamped her mouth shut and was not having anything to do with it.

So after quite a few minutes of trying, I thought I would put her into her enclosure and see if I could feed her in there, where she was free to move, like the other bats. Wrong!

As soon as I put her in the enclosure, she stormed all around it. She was buzzy-vocal and stompy. Even opened her amazing delicate wings for a moment, which I have not seen any of the others do. She was pissed. right. off!

No way I could feed her like that. Quickly crawling all over the enclosure. So, with J’s help, we put her into a thinner tea-towel burrito hold with her face uncovered and fed her. Once she got going, she was a champion eater!

She was left with a bit more food in her dish in case she was hungry later. She was still very active, but much less vocal and annoyed when she was returned to her enclosure for the night.

This one is so new she doesn’t have a name yet, but she sure has personality!