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Watching the Congress Bridge Bats

May 10th, 2017

So you want to see 1.5 million bats take off from their “cave” under Austin’s South Congress Bridge? Or perhaps you’ve done it before. Maybe you’d like to secure a better vantage point or to be better prepared the next time around. Regardless your interest, it’s worth the sight. Learn more about this visually stunning phenomenon and how to get the most out of the Congress Bridge bat experience here.

Who are the Congress Bridge bats?

Mexican free-tailed bats, also known as Brazilian free-tailed bats, roost in extraordinarily large numbers. In peak season, the population under Austin’s Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge can exceed 1.5 million. Recorded at speeds up to 99 miles per hour, the Mexican free-tailed bat is the world’s fastest animal. In Austin, the bats are known for their nightly feeding frenzy and “aerial show” between March and October. In spite of weighing less than a half-ounce on average, the Congress Bridge bat colony devours a combined 30,000 pounds of insects per flight.

When can you see the bats?

The Congress Bridge bats spend their winters in Mexico, typically returning to Austin in March. Aside from the birthing season in early June, when the bats feed later than usual, bats should be visible nearly every evening between late March and early November. Peak season starts in late July and early August, when the mothers have nursed their babies and the entire colony flies together. August and September are the best viewing months, from a numbers standpoint. The gestational period, falling in April and May, is also an exciting viewing time because the pregnant bats are exceedingly hungry.

What viewing options are there?

The South Congress Bridge is generally considered the best viewing spot for experiencing the bats. As a result, it can fill up well before the bats take flight. It also means you run the risk of having a bat dive down near you for a second or two, usually causing a commotion among the crowd. If you have small children or would prefer a tamer viewing experience, watch from the south side lawn below. The water is also a great vantage point from which to view the show. Paddle boats, kayaks, and surf boards can be rented for this purpose. There’s also the Lone Star Riverboat bat watching cruise, a sunset river cruise centered around the flight. TGI Fridays and Shoreline Bar and Grill also offer porch dining with good views, but don’t expect to get a good table 30 minutes before the Congress Bridge bats fly.

Can you plan ahead?

There’s no reason to spend hours planning your bat viewing outing, but preparing in advance will help you make the most of your Congress Bridge bat experience. Select a viewing spot, think about parking, and devise a post-flight plan. If you drive in for the bat experience, you might want to grab dinner or do something else downtown until traffic calms down. If you live in an apartment at AMLI Downtown or AMLI on 2nd, you’re a five- or ten-minute walk from the experience’s prime viewing spots.

The bats typically take flight right as dusk settles on Austin. But to ensure the bats are expected to fly and confirm their anticipated flight time, call the Bat Hot Line at 512-416-5700, ext. 3636.

Austin Bat Fest

Austinites will use any excuse they can to throw a music festival. The flight of the Congress Bridge bats is no exception. Now in its 13th year, Austin Bat Fest makes the viewing experience a real treat. For eight hours, accomplished bands play on three waterfront stages. More than 75 artisans sell their wares. Hunger can be satiated and thirst quenched with delicious local food and beverages. Children’s activities are available for little ones’ enjoyment. Dressing up is encouraged, and rewarded via a bat costume contest. Of course, the Roadway Productions event also guarantees you’ll see a lot of bats. This year’s Austin Bat Fest begins at 4pm on August 19.

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