May 22, 2017
By Helen Anders | July 18, 2016 | Culture
When more than a million winged nocturnal creatures summer in Austin, things can occasionally turn upside down.
During the warm months, tourists line the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset to watch the bats take off in search of their evening meal.
The sign outside Forever 21 at Barton Creek Square this spring couldn’t have been more blunt: for the safety of our customers, we are currently unable to open the store due to a bat.
Well, of course, due to a bat. Out-of-towners might have been befuddled, but to Austinites, nothing makes more sense than a store having to close because there’s a bat hanging out inside. Every year, from March through November, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats summer beneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge (bat-friendly because of the many small built-in nooks and gaps). It’s the obligation of every tourist in town to line up along the bridge at sunset and applaud in wonder as the bats swoop out in one massive dark wave.
Austin is the bats’ version of La Jolla. So, inevitably, they wind up in stores and restaurants. You’ll even see signs in the elevators at Seton Memorial Hospital: don’t touch the bats! Construction workers replacing mortar on the West Sixth Street Bridge recently brought their work to a screeching halt when they ran into a bat colony; they had to switch up the pipes so the bats could get in and out safely. Yes, we Austinites truly love our bats. A bat statue at South Congress Avenue and Barton Springs Road honors our favorite winged mammal, as do sweet programs such as the nonprofit Austin Bat Cave, which teaches children and teenagers to write.
We are a city of nocturnal creatures. Just go to Sixth Street after 2 am and watch the masses trying to find their Uber. And then drive by Magnolia Café and note the line forming under the sorry, we’re open sign. But our bats serve a purpose that their night-loving counterparts do not (that we know of): They eat mosquitos. That’s definitely worth a statue.
PhotograPhy by wallyg and reader of the Pack; Photo illustration by Jeremy deveraturda