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Each spring, the Austin area goes a bit nuts — you might even say bat crazy.
And for good reason, because 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats arrive each spring to roost under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.
It’s the largest urban bat colony in the world, and watching them emerge each evening for their flight and feeding has become a rite of passage for both visitors and Austin residents alike. Here is everything you need to know to see the bats for yourself.
The bats usually begin to emerge around sunset, but the event can happen anytime between 7:30pm and 9:45pm. The bats don’t all leave at once — in fact, it can take up to 45 minutes for all the bats to fly out. Expect to sometimes see just a few take flight followed by a swarm coming out from under the bridge.
The bats normally arrive in late March and tend to stay in Austin until early fall, so there’s ample opportunity to see the spectacle for yourself. In fact, mid-August is often the best time to watch as that’s when young bats born in June join their mothers in flight.
Whenever you go, expect a crowd and arrive early for the best spot.
The most iconic place to bat watch is from atop the Congress Avenue Bridge. Be sure to face east, as that’s the direction they will fly.
To avoid the crowd that will likely be on the bridge, opt for the adjacent Statesman Bat Observation Center. The corner of Congress Avenue and Barton Springs Road also offers a good vantage point.
For the athletically inclined, the Butler Hike & Bike Trail provides several excellent spots to bat watch. You can also rent a kayak canoe or water bike and watch the event from the river. If the idea of watching from the water appeals to you — but paddling or pedaling doesn’t — be sure to take a bat cruise, which is offered by several sightseeing companies.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Austin bat colony can eat up to 30,000 pounds of insects each evening.
One Final Tip
If you choose to watch the bats from below, be sure to wear a jacket or hat for the risk of falling guano.