The ABCs, or A Bat in Chicago

I have been volunteering a great deal this summer, as I search for a new career. Twice now, I have had the pleasure of volunteering with The Nature Conservancy/Chicago Park District/Cook County Forest Preserve. Each time I have sighted some amazing wildlife, right in the middle of Chicago!

On a warm, sunny day I jogged to the Caracol Gathering Space, where volunteers were gathering for a workday at the McCormick Bird Sanctuary. Once the five of us had gathered, we crossed the bike path and walked along a mulch trail where we discovered dozens of Monarch butterflies, perhaps preparing for an overnight roost, on their fall migration to Mexico.

We continued to a prairie habitat with its swaying grasses towering over my head (I’m 5’3”). Our goal was to cut down Ash and Mulberry saplings that, if left uncheck, would turn the prairie into a forest. As we made our way through, parting the thick grasses like we were doing the breaststroke, the sudden outstretched wing of a creature caught my eye. I froze, looking to my left to find that we had briefly disturbed a sleeping bat! A bat! In Chicago? In a prairie?

I, like I think most folks, imagine the ideal bat habitat to be dark, dank caves, not a small patch of prairie in the middle of the city of Chicago. But there it was, and we were all very excited to see the little creature who went right back to sleep after the brief intrusion. We stood marveling at a mammal we don’t ordinarily get to be in such close proximity to, and then went about our sapling removal. But afterwards, my curiosity was peaked, I did a little research. Turns out, there are seven species native to Chicago and they have recently been a species of interest to several organizations in and around Chicago.

The Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute began measuring bat populations in Chicago in 2012, using specialized microphones to detect the bats’ use of echolocation. Most recently, the Zoo has been studying bat poop, or guano, to learn more about the health of these bats.

An article published just last month by WTTW, explains how the Friends of the Chicago River and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County have partnered to install “bat condos” along the Chicago River since 2015. These provide shelter for maternity colonies, groups of female bats (60 or more) who give birth to and raise their pups together for warmth.

So, which bat species did we see in the prairie? Our volunteer coordinator, Suzanne, posted the above photo to the site iNaturalist and a bat expert identified it (pretty impressive, considering the photo isn’t great) as an Eastern Red Bat. As for habitat, bats can be found in a diverse array of habitats: warm tropical areas, swamps, woodlands, deserts, and grasslands. Which means I will be keeping an eye out at dusk, in the hopes of another bat sighting in Chicago!

For further reading, check out my sources:

Where do Bats Hang Out?

The Bats of Chicago

Where the Wild Things Are: A Field Guide to Our Urban Fauna

Acoustic Monitors Track Return of Bats in Chicago

New ‘Bat Condo’ is 6th to Be Installed in Cook County

Assessing the Health of Chicago-Area Bats – Using Their Poop





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