You could be wondering why you’ve been told to look at a bunch of bats. Why would 100,000 tourists come to Austin every year to see them?
It’s because there is a whole lot of them and it’s pretty impressive seeing them all take off at once. I know it might sound weird, but trust me on this.
The gaps underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge are a near perfect place for the Mexican free-tailed bats to migrate for the summer and have their babies (almost all the bats under the bridge are female).
So how many are there? According to Bat Conservation International, between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats live under the bridge during the summer. (They eat 10-20 thousand pounds of insects every night)
For context, Austin’s human population is a little over 900,000. So there are times when there are more bats than humans in town!
When can I see them?
The bats are generally in town from March till November. The baby bats are capable of flight around mid-August so the nightly flight can be even more impressive around that time.
They generally start coming out around 20 minutes before sundown (between 8 and 9 o’clock). You can find weekly updates on what time the bats are expecting to come out here.
How do I see them?
There are 4 main ways to watch the bats.
- Sidewalk on the east side of the Congress Ave bridge
- Doesn’t need a lot of prep
- Gives you a clear view as the bats take off and fly east.
- Congress Avenue is a very busy street. If you might be concerned about kids that close to the road, probably shouldn’t consider this an option
- No where to sit so if you and you may need to stand for around an hour
- Hillside below the south side of bridge (305 South Congress Avenue)
- Close up of the bats, but they are quickly hidden by the trees
- More kid friendly and you can even bring a picnic.
- May have to show up a little earlier to find a spot
- Small chance you get some bat droppings on you
- Boat Rentals
- $10 per person depending on age
- Scenic even before and after the bats fly
- An hour or two of sitting still and no air conditioning or bathrooms (Unless you have a large party and arrange to use one of the larger boats)
- Duffy Boat Rentals can be a good compromise between being on a totally public tour and a more expensive private tour. You can bring your own food and drink as well.
- Personal watercraft
- Free if you own your own kayak/canoe/stand up paddleboard
- Can rent all of these by the hour or day. Prices vary based on company and type of craft.
- Can explore at your leisure
- Requires physical strength and skill
The most convenient spot for most of these options is the paid lot of the Austin American Statesmen building (305 South Congress Avenue). If you don’t mind walking, there is a free lot about 1/4 mile west near the South 1st Street bridge. You can only park here for two hours, but that should be enough for bat viewing if you arrive just before sundown. There are also a number of hotels and businesses that have paid options nearby. I personally recommend taking a ride share to the area so you don’t have to worry about parking at all.
Few last things
It should go without saying that the bats are wild animals so if you find any lying on the ground, you should not touch them at all. Don’t shine lights on the bats. It will cause them to be temporarily blinded. Finally, it might not be a bad idea to bring some bug spray. The bats eat bugs but the bugs may eat you in the meantime.
I think that about does it. Feel free to leave any other questions in the comments.