Lockhart goes batty: Thousands take residence on Square
By LPR Staff
For years, one of Austin’s claims to fame had been the massive colony of Mexican freetail bats, which during the summer months call the Congress Avenue Bridge home.
While Lockhart’s winged population will likely never rival the Capitol City’s, the Caldwell County Courthouse Square has recently become a nesting
place for a colony of bats, most likely also Mexican freetails, which have been delighting passersby and drawing crowds for two weeks now.
During the summer months, the peak of their migration season, the Mexican freetail bats tend to migrate to cavern areas where they are able to find ample water. However, with water being in short supply and caves being even more rare in Central Texas, the flying mammals are making do with nearly any haven they can find – in this case, the “Stephens Building,” on northeast corner of San Antonio and Main Streets, right on the Caldwell County Courthouse Square.
Members of the Stephens family say that the bats have roosted in the third floor of their historic building before, but none can recall having seen a colony this large in the past. They estimate that the bats number as many as 250,000, while officials within the City of Lockhart have given much lower estimates.
Growing in popularity for the past several nights, the bat colony has become a draw for local tourists, who have started gathering in pairs and trios to watch as the bats stream from the third floor of the Stephens Building each evening in their nightly hunting ritual.
More than two dozen gathered on Tuesday evening and watched rapt as the bats left their roost and headed south, in search of food.
Although the bats are interesting to watch, city officials and business owners are concerned that one man’s tourist attraction is another man’s health hazard. The businesses lining North Main Street have started to be impacted by the colony, as the smell of bat guano is becoming more distinct and stronger with each passing day the colony keeps residence on the Square.
Additionally, according to information released by Lockhart City Manager Vance Rodgers earlier this week, two dead bats have tested positive for rabies, and are thought to have been members of the downtown colony.
“We don’t want to create a panic, but we do want to remind people that it is best not to handle the bats, and if they find one dead, they should contact the proper authorities,” Rodgers said. Further, residents should be aware that a bat seen during the light of day will almost assuredly have rabies.
Pet owners are reminded to make sure their domestic pets are current on their required rabies vaccinations.
Rodgers said the city and the building’s owners have been working with area bat experts in efforts to seal the building and install re-entry deterrents that will allow the bats to leave, but not return to the building. The State Health Department has become involved, Rodgers said.
After the bats have moved on, the owners will be responsible for cleanup, and removing what Rodgers called the “source of bad smells” from the building.
In the meantime, however, interested parties will continue to gather on the Courthouse Square to watch the bats perform their nightly show. The best viewing is from South Main Street, as the bats leave the northernmost corner of the Square and travel southbound, following the same general route as Main Street. Bat-watchers are reminded, however, that the streets lining the Caldwell County Courthouse Square are public, traveled streets, and the buildings around the Square are, for the most part, private property.
See more pictures of the bat migration online at www.lockhart-locals.com.