Bat House Maker Works to Protect Animals

John Hathawy

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about bats over the years,” said local bat house crafter John Hathaway. “They’ve been made out to be horrible little critters.”

One word many use to describe the animals is “frightening.” Given the vampire lore and some species’ penchant for blood, it might not be a surprising descriptor, but it is undeserving, Hathaway said. Bats feed on mosquitoes, for one. They also provide a number of agricultural benefits, which makes them especially useful in Lake County. Hathaway makes the houses for everyone, farmers included, who may want to keep bats around, but don’t know how to build the homes themselves. “They [bats] do a lot of good. They kill a lot of the bugs that are eating crops,” Hathaway said. “They also pollinate some of the crops. They’re quite valuable in that respect.”

But the animals are dying. Twenty-six species are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and according to Bat Conversation International (BCI), those bats are in imminent danger of extinction. Another 51 species are classified as Endangered and a whopping 954 are considered Vulnerable.

BCI said the biggest threat to bats is human activity, particularly the destruction of bat habitats. It’s why Hathaway began crafting his bat houses nine years ago. “I feel like I’m doing some good in the world providing them a place to live,” he said.

Other species across North America have been impacted by White-nose Syndrome, which affects hibernating bats. It’s a wildlife disease caused by a cold-dwelling fungus and has a mortality rate of up to 100 percent. When Hathaway learned about the disease, he kicked his bat houses into high gear.

He’s always had an interest in bats and birds. “Even though some people think they’re ugly I think they’re kind of cute,” he said. “They have a vocabulary that we don’t understand. They can communicate with each other and they’re quite intelligent.”

Hathaway isn’t just looking to sell houses, but disseminate information. He writes up fliers and brochures and hands them out at various crafting events across the county. He can give people information for free, which they otherwise might not have access to. Hathaway hopes to dispel any negative perceptions surrounding bats.

“They’re mammals like us. I’m sure they have feelings much like we do. Some people don’t respect that. People talk about killing them and they’re endangered and federally protected,” he said. “They’re really good for us and we should try to work with them rather than chase them away.”

Although bats shouldn’t live inside someone’s home, there are benefits to putting up a bat house and allowing the animals to live on the property. According to BCI, they’re the primary predator of night-flying insects and some species can consume up to their weight in bugs. They eat mosquitoes, fruit flies and crop-damaging moths. Hathaway likened bats to honey bees, which are also dying off at an alarming rate. Without the pollination of both, many crops could fail. “They [bats] are losing their habitat and so are other critters that pollinate, like the bees,” he said. “If we don’t have bees and we don’t have bats and we don’t have butterflies to pollinate then we’re not going to have food to eat.”

And information from BCI adds that night-foraging fruit bats also spread seeds as they fly long distances every night. In some cleared areas, they drop more seeds than birds.

Hathaway is so serious about protecting the animals and providing habitats, he hopes one day to run a successful business of selling bat houses. He constructs the houses with quality redwood lumber and materials, so they’ll last both the bats and the buyers for years. As people learn about the benefits of bats and take action to protect them, he hopes his sales will climb. “There’s more and more people becoming aware of how valuable they [bats] are,” he said. “They shouldn’t hesitate to get a house up.”

Ed note: This story originally appeared in the Lake County Record-Bee. By Jennifer Gruenke.

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