Nature and history await you in Austin, Texas. When planning your Austin getaway, allow time to take a walk on the wild side with a sunset trip to Congress Avenue Bridge. That’s where you can glimpse the city’s unique summer residents. Austin’s population swells an additional 750,000 between March and October. It’s not a hoard of legislators or even lobbyists besieging the capital. These seasonal visitors are Mexican Free Tail bats and their home of choice is beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge, just blocks from the Texas State Capital.
These winged mammals took up residence after a bridge modification in the early 1980’s. The bats fit nicely into slots cut underneath the bridge. Each spring, pregnant bats begin arriving in March to give birth. According to Bat Conservation International, Congress Avenue Bridge is one of the largest urban bat nurseries in the United States – with as many as 500 bats per square foot.
At dusk, the mother bats leave their individual pups up under the bridge and fly off to hunt. It’s this dusk flight that draws a different type of animal – tourists – to Congress Bridge. To avoid predators, the bat colony begins its nightly hunt in mass. As the bats emerge, they form an aerial river of winged mammals flowing out from under the bridge. The bats head east to forage on bugs, nightly consuming 5 to 15 tons of insects helping to keep mosquito populations in check. After an evening of bug hunting, the mother bats return to the bridge finding their baby by smell and by the unique sound made by each pup.
Around July, the young bats join mom in the nightly flight – a perilous endeavor for the little critters. Aerodynamically, the bats begin flight by dropping from their perch and if grounded are unable to get airborne again. Each night several of the little bats plop into Town Lake. The lucky ones get plucked out of the water with nets by the tour boats and placed on the bridge pilings. Here they can climb high enough to drop and attempt flight again.
There are several ways to view the Congress Bridge bat colony. Capital Cruises Austin offers nightly boat excursions. This is a great way to see the bats up close. Reservations are required and can be made at 512-480-9264. The bats can also be viewed by land. The east side of Congress Bridge just before dusk is an ideal viewing location as is the Lady Bird Lake walk/bike trails. Bat Conservation International’s website at batcon.org posts current timeframes for the bats’ nightly appearances.
While in Austin, step back in time with a visit to Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum at 1800 N Congress Avenue. The museum tells the Texas story with three floors of informative and interactive exhibits, from the early Mexican Tejanos settlers to the Houston space program. A visit to the Texas Spirit Theater is a must. The theatre’s unique panorama screens along with its multi-sensory presentation will delight audiences young and old. The museum also houses an IMAX theater showing first run movies and IMAX films on its six-story tall screen.