A Texas wildlife rehabilitator has nursed more than 1,600 frozen bats back to health in their attic after many fell off their carcasses during freezing temperatures in Houston last week.
Mary Warwick, director of wildlife for the Houston Humane Society, told CNN she’s been working with bats since 2019, when another cold snap knocked Houston bats out of their carcasses. But she had never done a rescue of this scale before.
On December 21, temperatures in Houston dropped from the 60s during the day to 22 degrees at night. “This represents a sharp drop in temperature for the bats,” Warwick explained. The Houston area is home to eight species of bat, including the small Mexican free-tailed bat that roosts under many of the city’s bridges.
“As their body temperature drops, they can no longer hold out inside the cavity of the bridge,” Warwick said. “Some of them started to get so low in temperature that they lost their feet and fell.”
Warwick was running errands when she realized she wasn’t getting any calls about the Bats needing help, which was unusual given the cold weather. She said she went to a bridge in Houston and “saw little spots on the ground.”
“There were about 138 bats that became hypothermic,” she continued. “They looked dead.”
She went to work collecting baby bats in a crate in her car, where she used the seat heater to start warming them up. “I live about 40 minutes away from the bridge, and by 20 minutes, they had started moving, which gave me a lot of hope,” she said.
Warwick returned that night to pick up another 50 frozen bats. Then she got a call from someone who found 920 other bats in need of help.
At her home, Warwick sorted bats to determine which were still alive and which had died, whether from cold or falling to the ground. She put them in incubators to raise their body temperature and then gave them fluids under the skin.
But taking care of more than 1,000 bats was overwhelming. So I reached out to Bat World Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization based in North Texas. Batworld wasn’t able to accommodate such a large group of bats, but they did help Warwick come up with a battle plan to take care of the frozen creatures.
“We decided once I had them stable, I could put them in the attic where it would be cool but not freezing, and that would lower their metabolism so they wouldn’t need to eat, but they would drink water,” she explained.
So Warwick divided the bats, using crates to keep each colony together, and left them in the attic to rest and regain their strength. Bats that needed rescuing were also recalled by many local citizens, bringing the total to 1,602 recovered bats at the temporary bat hospital in Warwick. She said they spent about three days in the attic.
Only 115 bats collected died, according to Warwick. “I was so happy about that,” she said. “Especially the initial fall—this must be a hard fall, falling 20 feet from the bridge. It’s remarkable that these little guys can make it through.”
And on Wednesday, as temperatures stabilized in Houston, most of the bats were returned to the bridges whence they came. A few were still struggling to fly properly and were back in the attic, where Warwick said they would get “extra supportive care”.
Warwick and other helpers from the humane society hired a scissor lift to bring the bats as close as possible to their roosting area under the bridge. “We wanted the bats to get the best chance of hearing and seeing, and stimulating their friends,” she explained. “They’re very social, they already have friends there, and they know their tweets.”
Warwick said she enjoys taking care of bats in part because they are “so small and small and sweet.”
She explained that Warwick and other rehabilitation therapists who work with bats are being vaccinated against rabies so they can work safely with the animals. The Houston Humane Society recommends that people trying to rescue bats either wear thick leather gloves or avoid touching them at all.
Warwick added that bats are a critical component of Houston’s ecosystem. They feed on mosquitoes and insects that eat crops, and also serve as an important food source for hawks and other predators.
She said the Houston Humane Society is currently fundraising for a new facility that will include a dedicated bat room.
“We have moved to their lands, where they live,” she said. “It is important for us to take care of them.”