Austin may be known for its music festivals, craft breweries, and quirky urban atmosphere, but it is also a great spot for ecotourism as well! In addition to many lakes, rivers, and hiking trails, the Congress Avenue Bridge is home to a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats that are a breathtaking and unique sight. These bats are important to not only the tourism of the area, but also to the ecosystem of Austin, and are another unique part of the city that loves to keep it weird.
The official name of the Congress Avenue Bridge is the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, named after a prominent Austin resident. This bridge crosses over Lady Bird Lake and is an important roadway in the city. In 1980, the bridge was badly in need of repairs and was rehabilitated and reinforced. What they did not realize was that the new crevices underneath the bridge created perfect nesting grounds for bats.
Today, the Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world! Over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats make their home here. The colony is matriarchal, and these female bats raise approximately 750,000 pups each year. When the pups are born, they weigh one-third as much as the mother, which is the equivalent of a human giving birth to a 40-pound baby! These amazing creatures migrate each year from central Mexico.
Although the bats are now a celebrated part of the city, when the bridge first became a major roost for the bats there was actually a major uproar. Many people feared bats either as a carrier of disease or as a nuisance. Bat Conservation International, which focuses on bat-friendly education, has worked hard to help locals understand the importance of bats to the ecosystem. In fact, the bats eat between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds of insects each night!
The bats leave for warmer weather during the winter. However, they can be viewed for free between the months of May and September. Viewing is available from the Austin American-Statesman’s Bat Observation area, located on the south side of Congress Avenue. Reservations are not necessary. You will be in awe of these intelligent and graceful creates as they fly through the night! It is truly a once in a lifetime type of experience.
Image By Peter Potrowl – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4414637