Approximately 300,000 bats live year-round underneath the Waugh Drive bridge in Houston
The bat colony of Waugh Drive bridge in Houston fills the evening sky with hairline streaks that zip, zig, and zag until they disappear in the dark. The bats have found a roost in the joints of the bridge and plenty of insects to eat in the urban environment.
Of the 1,100 species of bats in the world, 33 varieties live in Texas at least part of the year. The vampire bat, native to Latin America, does not reside in Texas. Bats are not blind and won't bite without provocation. The creatures can carry rabies, so you should never handle any bat or wild animal.
There are 11 different species of bats in the Houston area, but the majority of the bats at the Waugh Drive bridge are Mexican free-tails – the same species of voracious insect-eaters that emerge from Austin's Congress Avenue bridge.
Unlike most bat colonies in Texas, the Houston bats reside along Buffalo Bayou year-round. Estimates put the number of bats in the colony between 250,000 and 350,000 compared to about 1.5 million under Austin's much larger bridge.
There are several ways to see the bats emerge from underneath the Houston bridge, but one of the most interesting is the boat tour sponsored by the local conservation group Buffalo Bayou Partnership. The pontoon boat travels about a mile upstream to Waugh Drive. Only a few blocks from the canyons of downtown, the bayou seems a world away from the city. Birds dart in and out of the vegetation lining the bank as the boat makes its way up the winding channel. A big hawk, maybe waiting for the bats to emerge too, ignored us as we passed his perch.
The guides give a short talk about the bats, but mostly the group of 20 on the boat just watched the emergence in awe. From under the bridge, the bat colony swirled above our heads like a column of smoke. The streetlights illuminated rivers of black streaks across the dark-blue sky. For more than an hour, beginning around sunset, the winged mammals poured out from under the bridge.
You can also watch the emergence from the bridge or the viewing platform at the southeast corner of the bridge. Texas Parks & Wildlife staff and volunteers present a program on the bats at the viewing platform about 20 minutes before sunset on the first and third Fridays and Saturdays of the month during the summer. For more information, contact Diana Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pontoon boat known as the Osprey sets sail on the 90-minute bat tours usually on the second Saturday of the month, June through October. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership also offers other boat tours, kayak tours, and additional programs on the waterway. For more information, contact the group at www.buffalobayou.org or by calling 713/752-0314 x4.
940th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.