Q: A new neighbor has bats in the chimney. How do we find someone to remove them?
A: First, your neighbor should make sure they're really bats. Although bats occasionally roost in old chimneys, it's rare for them to locate in modern ones, said John Simpkins, one of the owners of Mid-Atlantic Wildlife Control. "Ninety-nine percent of people who say they have bats in chimneys have chimney swifts," he said.
How to tell if it's bats or birds? Go outside at dusk and watch the flight direction. Bats head out at dusk to feed, while chimney swifts head in to roost.
If the creatures are chimney swifts, just wait a few weeks and they will leave on their own. Chimney swifts migrate to South America for the winter and don't return until April. By then, your neighbor can have the chimney capped -- or look forward to hosting these intriguing birds again. Chimney swifts are never around during fireplace season, so having the chimney cleaned in the fall eliminates the risk that the nests will block airflow. The babies do chatter as they beg their parents for food, with sound level highest during the last two weeks before they fly from the nest. But in return for putting up with that, anyone who hosts these birds gets great insect control and a close-up look at a fascinating species.
"These fantastic fliers do almost everything on the wing -- eat, drink, break off twigs for their nests and are even thought to copulate in flight," the Maryland Department of Natural Resources says on a website page devoted to chimney swifts. The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A federal permit is needed to remove chimney swifts and their nests during the nesting season.
If your neighbor is dealing with bats, it might also be wise to wait a bit before trying to get them out because babies might still be inside. The only recommended way to exclude bats is to seal all entrances except one and then install a one-way door there so that once bats fly out, they can't get back in. To avoid trapping babies that are too young to fly out, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources recommends waiting at least until September to install the one-way door. Bats hibernate beginning in November, so exclusion shouldn't be done after that, for fear of trapping adults inside. It's critical not to trap bats inside. If the trapped bats are adults, there's more chance they will wind up in living space as they try to escape. And if adult or infant bats die inside, the house will stink.
Mid-Atlantic Wildlife Control charges $95 for a consultation visit, with that fee applied toward the final cost if work is done. Bat exclusion can range from several hundred dollars to thousands, depending on the size and style of the building and the difficulty of sealing entrances, Simpkins said.
As part of any bat-exclusion project, the department recommends installing a bat house outside. This will protect the bats, which have declined by about 80 percent since the white-nose syndrome disease emerged in 2007. Having nearby roosting will also help discourage the bats from trying to find other ways into the house.
Q: My porch light is on all night as a security measure. The bulb was sold as a "bug bulb," but every morning I find the remains of flying insects all around the porch, as well as webs from the spiders that prey on them. What kind of bulb would be more effective?
A: Try using an LED bug light. Like incandescent and compact-fluorescent bug lights, the LED version emits yellow light. That helps a lot because insects are drawn more to short-wavelength light: ultraviolet (UV), blue and green. They ignore long-wavelength light: yellow, orange and red.
But LED bug lights work better than the other two types for two reasons: They produce the least heat and the least UV light, both of which are powerful lures for some insects.
Whatever the source, yellow light always has some amount of blue light in it, so it's never as effective as turning off the light. If you're unwilling to do that, consider this tip, courtesy of the Home Depot Web page that offers a Philips LED bug light for $5.97: Use an LED bug light on your porch, but rig up a white light 15 to 20 feet away. Insects will be drawn to the white light, reducing the horde that might otherwise be drawn to the faint blue light from the bug bulb.
Put the white light where dead insects can fall to the ground and disappear into the landscaping.
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