Problem with bats entering homes ‘getting worse’ in Hamilton: wildlife control firm

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Published September 8, 2023 at 5:49 pm

COURTESY OF SKEDADDLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL
COURTESY OF SKEDADDLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL

In some cases, you may not see them. Behind the wall, you may hear scratching and squeaking noises. In other situations, little black droppings are a telltale sign. You may even see what you think is a bird flying in your room late at night.

Chances are that’s not a bird.

Bats are a common problem in homes and buildings, and the problem has gotten worse in Hamilton, said Bill Dowd, president and chief executive of Skeddadle Humane Wildlife Control, which services over 70 cities in Canada and the United States.

Dowd estimates his company has visited at least 20 homes a day in Hamilton that are experiencing bat problems in August, considered a peak month for bats. 

“Right now we can’t keep up with the amount of calls that are coming in, we’re just inundated,” said Dowd in a phone interview with inthehammer.com. “Probably every year, year after year for over 30 years we see about a 10-per-cent increase in our bat calls year over year.  The problem isn’t going away, it’s getting worse. (Hamilton is) probably within the top three of all the cities we service in North America.”

Dowd pointed out that August is “bat season” because that’s when the babies, born earlier in the summer, are learning how to fly and may end up in areas with people, but they’re still active until the temperature dips.

The secret with bats is they’re active right now but as we get into the fall season and the temperature goes below six degrees Celsius, they start hibernating,” he said. “And when they’re hibernating, they’re not flying. They’re sleeping the entire winter or most of winter so then it’s virtually impossible to get them out then.”  

COURTESY OF SKEDADDLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL

COURTESY OF SKEDADDLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL

Hamilton sees rise in calls about bats in homes

The City of Hamilton investigates about 200 cases per year where a human or domestic animal has possibly been exposed to bats, according to Jane Murrell, a supervisor with the City’s health hazards and vector-borne disease program.

Seven bats in Hamilton tested positive for the bat strain of rabies this year. They were tested because they all had either human or domestic animal exposure, she explained. 

“Cases are higher in the warmer months as bats are looking for a more stable temperature to roost,”  Murrell said in an email to inthehammer.com. “Bats can also become active in the winter when temperatures are abnormally high and wake bats from their hibernation.”

Hamilton has seen an increase in cases so far this year compared to last year, according to the City.

In 2022, the City’s Animal Control unit had 208 calls for service for “alive bats” and 40 calls for service for “dead bats,” Monica Ciriello, director of licensing and bylaw services, said in an email to inthehammer.com.

So far this year, the unit had 243 calls for service for “alive bats” and 38 calls for service for “dead bats.” As of early September, she said the City has “surpassed the total calls for bats as compared to last year.”

“Many of our bat investigations are generated through the public contacting Animal Services for assistance in removing a bat from their home but these investigations also include residents who have received medical attention for a potential exposure as well,” Murrell said.

Residents are urged to keep pets away and avoid any contact with bats and their saliva. They are encouraged to seek the help of the City’s Animal Services unit or a wildlife control company to safely remove them. If there’s potential exposure to humans or a domestic animal, the bat will be tested to rule out risk of rabies. Otherwise, the bat is released, she added. 

Since bats are protected animals, she said the City does not test them unless a potential risk of exposure exists because testing requires euthanizing the animals.

“If a resident is unable to safely remove a bat from their home Animal Services can assist,” she said. “Also if wildlife appear ill or injured or if a resident has had potential exposure (bite/scratch) to either bats or other wildlife then Animal Services should also be contacted to safely remove the animal and allow for testing through Public Health. Wildlife are part of our environment and as long as appear healthy should be left alone to prevent any risk of rabies.”

COURTESY OF SKEDADDLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL

COURTESY OF SKEDADDLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL

Why do bats enter homes?

People who had bats may scratch their heads wondering how they got inside a residence or any building. Dowd points out how the creatures have an incredible ability to squeeze into small holes and end up living in attics and walls. Since these are hot and humid environments, they allow them to give birth and raise their young there.  “Basically every house in Hamilton or every house in every city in Canada and the U.S. is vulnerable to a bat because bats only need an opening the size of a dime to get into the attic space,” Dowd said.

Bats are not found in a specific area, Dowd said. “Bats don’t discriminate,” he said. “It’s the entire city. We do just as much work in … downtown Hamilton as we do on the East Mountain, West Mountain, Ancaster, Dundas, Stoney Creek. It’s everywhere.”

It’s a mystery why Hamilton appears to have a huge bat problem, even bigger than Toronto, which is only about an hour’s drive away, though he said it could be because of the location.   

“We’ve spoken with bat biologists and bat experts who study these type of things. The only thing that we can hypothesize is Hamilton is on the lake, we have the escarpment that cuts the city in half that’s going to cause a high insect (and) mosquito population in the city of Hamilton, which in turn creates a higher bat population. Bats are healthier because the female bats have a lot of food sources … that’s allowed the population to continue to increase year after year after year.”

If people discover a bat in their living space, Dowd said it’s “the tip of the iceberg.”

“That means there’s a colony living in the attic, or the walls or the roof cavities. Usually colonies in the city of Hamilton range between five and 10 bats to hundreds,” he explained. “Every single year, the bats give birth in that same attic space so if you start with say two bats in the attic, they give birth to one or two a year, next year eight, 16, 32, 64 so in a matter of four or five  years the colony is in the hundreds.”

Wildlife control companies are called upon to humanely remove the animals and in some cases, “bat-proof” the home or building, which can cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the site and situation. “We seal up the exterior of the house so that bats cannot get back in and then we give them a lifetime guarantee that they’ll never have a problem again,” said Dowd.

The Little Brown Bat is an endangered species. JORDI SEGERS VIA CANADIAN WILDLIFE HEALTH COOPERATIVE

The Little Brown Bat is an endangered species. JORDI SEGERS VIA CANADIAN WILDLIFE HEALTH COOPERATIVE

What do you do when you see a bat?

Skeddadle’s Dowd advises people who see a bat in their home to get out of the room the bat is in, close the door, put a towel under the bottom of the door to prevent the bat from escaping and call wildlife control professionals to help remove the bat. 

Bat-proofing homes is the best way to avoid that problem, he said, and this advice applies to all kinds of wildlife.

Seal up the cracks and areas in your property where creatures can enter, he said. “Have trained professionals inspect your property and then bat-proof it before you have a problem.”

Dowd recalls his company got a call about a bat that came flying into someone’s bedroom at around 2 or 3 a.m. one summer years ago. A 6’5″, 300-pound man was on the front porch, sitting almost fully covered with a blanket, shaking and petrified. It turned out he was a Hamilton Tiger-Cats football player.

“Because the media has a lot of negative connotations with them, people get very upset, very panicky,” he said.

There’s a good reason for that. Although the probability is low, he notes that bats are known to carry rabies. 

Still, “the risk is so high,” he warns. “Once you get rabies, it’s incurable and results in death. And bats’ teeth are so tiny and sharp, if you’re sleeping and maybe a bat lands in the bed beside you and you roll over, a bat will bite to defend itself. It could bite you on the back and you would not feel it because it’s almost like a tiny pin prick.”

People who encounter a bat are advised to call their family doctor or public health officials to determine whether they should get rabies shots. 

When Skeddadle catches a bat, it keeps it in a container with holes and recommends homeowners to call public health officials and a family doctor first just in case they want to test it for rabies, he said.

There’s also the chance of contracting histoplasmosis, a common fungal lung infection linked to bat droppings that can have mild to life-threatening symptoms of pneumonia.

As frightening as it can be to see this nocturnal creature flying around, bats are a protected species in Canada and many areas in North America and considered vital to the ecosystem since they act as an effective pest control.

Dowd said bats are “remarkable” creatures. If you look closely at night, there are as many bats flying as there are birds during the day.

“They can fly in pitch darkness and catch another insect in mid-flight and one bat will eat anywhere from two to three thousand insects a night,” he explained. “So they’re fantastic at controlling the insect population and allowing us humans to enjoy a nice night out in the summer.” 

A bat problem in a property could lead to histoplasmosis, a common fungal lung infection linked to bat droppings that can have mild to life-threatening symptoms of pneumonia. COURTESY OF SKEDDADLE HUMAN WILDLIFE CONTROL

A bat problem in a property could lead to histoplasmosis, a common fungal lung infection linked to bat droppings that can have mild to life-threatening symptoms of pneumonia. COURTESY OF SKEDDADLE HUMANE WILDLIFE CONTROL

‘Increasing problem with all wildlife everywhere’: wildlife control company

Not all wildlife control companies see bats as the main headache for residents in Hamilton. Chris Dyal, who co-owns Hamilton-based Raider Wildlife Control, said bats in homes and buildings are not a problem only in Hamilton. Taking a bigger picture of the issue, he said all kinds of wildlife in general including bats can enter homes in any Ontario city. 

There’s an increasing problem with all wildlife (in residences and businesses) everywhere,” he said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com. We’ve seen an increase in all species across all regions. … Over the last five years, we’ve noticed that babies have been born earlier and earlier in the year.”

For instance, he said racoons usually give birth at the end of February or beginning of March.  But this January, a litter of racoons was born, which he believes is the earliest recorded birth of racoons in Canada.

Raider Wildlife Control serves residential and commercial customers in Ontario communities such as Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Burlington and Oakville. On its website, the company says it focuses on prevention and uses humane methods in removing wildlife and preventing it from entering properties. 

Dyal states that the main reason people are having issues with wildlife is structural because of gaps in homes. Also, the human population is encroaching on wildlife habitats because more houses are being built, which means more chances for encounters with critters.

“It’s no big secret,” he said. “Animals need shelter and food to survive, so at the end of the day, that’s all they’re looking for.” 

COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA

This is the endangered Tri-colored Bat. Parks Canada fears millions of bats could perish from a fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, which has already wiped out millions of bats. SHERRI AND BROCK FENTON VIA PARKS CANADA

Millions of bats, considered critical to ecosystem, could perish from fungus

Certain bats species are endangered, so it’s illegal to kill them. In fact, Parks Canada fears millions of bats could perish from a fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, which has already wiped out millions of bats. Many experts say it’s “the worst wildlife disease outbreak in modern times.” It has been spreading across Eastern Canada and is expected to head West, according to Parks Canada.

Since wildlife companies don’t test bats for rabies, people who come into contact with them either through a bite, scratch or exposure to their saliva are urged to call their doctor or local public health unit. A company like Raider Wildlife Control will remove them and other wildlife, installing exit systems so the animals can leave on their own. 

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, fewer than five per cent of all bats submitted for testing have rabies.

“While the infection rate is low, any bat encountered should be considered rabid unless it’s tested because bats have small, needle-like teeth and claws that mean bites or scratches can easily go undetected,” it said in email to inthehammer.com.

Adam Cole, owner and wildlife technician at Hamilton-based Done Right Pest and Wildlife Control, said many large, tall and older homes have many gaps and cracks where bats can enter.

“There’s definitely a problem. I haven’t noticed an increase this year compared to previous years,” he said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com. 

Cole said his company, which has been operating for five years, typically gets 10 to 20 bat calls a year between July and September. 

“It is their season right now,” he said. The company had 15 calls so far this year about bats. “It’s the time of year where they’re really coming out and visible. We’re getting a fair amount of calls for them.”

His company does free inspections for bats. He said they usually catch and release the bats and determine how it entered the property. They provide services such as sealing gaps and cracks and installing one-way doors so the bats won’t be able to fit in holes to get inside properties. 

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