"Jeff, are you free now? I wondered if I could hire you with your tractor and loader to help me put up a bat house."
Help me put up a bat house. Yeah, that's a typical phone call I get while I'm working. How about you? And for some reason, my sisters think I'm a nut magnet!
The friend who called with that question is a first-class character I've known forever, so I was on board instantly. In fact, I think I was a bit more eager than he expected. I told him I'd be there in 15 minutes or so, because we'd just finished some other project and had the tractor and loader free and uncommitted at the moment.
He loved it when our mutual plan came together.
Off the top of my head, I wasn't completely clear on what a bat house actually is, or what it looks like, but I figured it wasn't small. So I decided to add an element that the original chef didn't call for in the recipe: more staff. There were a couple reasons behind that. First of all, Woody wasn't booked solid with anything at the moment, so I knew he'd be free to come along with me. Second, I figured he'd get a kick out of it, so why not share the fun? Third, something in my tiny brain told me a bat house wouldn't be placed four feet off the ground. If the guy wants a tractor and loader, this wasn't hold-the-stepladder-for-me-while-I-climb-up-it type work. This was serious height work. I'm not into serious height work or just plain serious heights. I like ground-based work.
So Woodrow and I made our way to the job site. When we got there, we discovered that our friend had been working on a bit of a shop project. It was some serious wood work. If I had tossed this concept out to my junior high shop teacher, Mr. Moen, and completed it as our friend had, there would have been a guaranteed "A" on my report card that semester. It was no napkin holder or magazine rack, that's for sure. It wasn't just any bat house, though. This one was a Two-chambered Rocket Box Bat House. Click here  for the plans for something similar.
You don't find these things in Home Depot — well, unless your associate's nametag says "Igor" and he has a bit of a hump. Then he'll take you to "the back room" and show you what they have. That's how Igor ticks. You won't get that kind of insider knowledge if the associate's nametag says "Trevor."
So now that you have your bat house, what are you going to do with it? First of all, it needs to be painted. That takes more science than art. You will need to look at a map and find out which zone you live in for your bat house installation. You see, your bats need to stay comfy, but not too toasty warm. If you're up north in Minnesota, your bat house needs to be black. Cranks up a few more solar rays that way to maintain internal temperature. If you live down south where you can measure the humidity in the air with a knife, your bat house needs to be a much lighter shade. Perhaps something in a champagne, or eggshell, or ecru. (Thanks for the help, Trevor!) If you live here in the great midsection of the country, you will go with a brown. That will keep your bats comfy in winter without being a complete toaster oven in the summer. It's all about bat comfort.
Next, you need to find a location to place your bat house that's sort of out in the open. You can't hang the thing from a branch and hope your bat flies into it as he's zipping around at night eating his own weight in insects. It needs to be easily accessible as the bat zips around on his meal maneuvers. That means out in the open, not in the brush. You know, like where they put airport runways. It's the same concept. Hoist it on top of your chimney if you have one. Or put it on a pole out in the open part of the yard. Just don't put it where varmints can get at it. (Yeah, I'm looking right at YOU, Ranger Rick!)
Our project went the pole route. There was a pole in the middle of our friend's yard that was more than stout. He simply added a couple of extensions to it so that the bat house would be quite a few feet in the air. Seeing as how the pole was more or less large-diameter water pipe, the threads on it made it fairly easy to keep adding more length to the pipe. Next thing you know, you've gotten out of reach of a step ladder and now you need your goofy farmer friend to come over and hoist you to the sun. Keep in mind, the actual house portion of this bat house is about four feet tall and ten inches square. You also have a base plate that's attaching your pipe segment to your bat house and then you have the actual bat house above that. Then all you have to do is hold your bat house upright and thread it onto the pole.
That's when I decided it was perhaps a genius move to have Woody along with me. One guy standing in a loader bucket trying to screw a four-foot-long wooden rocket onto a pole several feet in the air isn't the exact recipe for success. It's usually the recipe to make you the opening clip on the next episode of “Tosh.O”! Now, TWO guys standing in a loader bucket trying to screw a four-foot-long wooden rocket onto a pole several feet in the air; that makes perfect sense. Might as well stamp the OSHA Seal of Approval on that photo.
The bat house pole-threading exercise went fairly well. It didn't start out perfect, because it always seems like you get the nut on the hard-to-reach bolt threads crooked the first time, but they eventually got it to screw on successfully. Pipe wrenches were used to torque it down securely. You don't want a stiff breeze to suddenly get your bat house spinning like a top and have it come flying off. I mean, I'm no aerospace engineering major, but it's built like a rocket. That puppy's gonna launch if it's unleashed from its docking station! You do not want to be around when that things falls from the sky!
Now it's just a matter of waiting for the bats to become accustomed to the new house. Hopefully they will take a liking to it and make it their new address. It could take as long as a year before they make the move. Bats aren't impulse buyers in the housing market. To entice them a bit, though, our friend went one step further than most bat house builders. He had the lady who runs the graphics and sign business in Cresco (who did the label work for our honey) add some decals of bats to the outside of the house. It's the equivalent of a bat welcome mat, I suppose. Maybe it's supposed to be like those autographed 8 x 10 glossies of celebrities you see near the door at restaurants. "Oh, cool! Pauly Shore ate here. I know it'll be great! Let's get a table!"
All I know is that I'm going to mention to Sherill before she goes to work some day that I'll be hanging out at my friend's house while she's gone. Then I'll swing by to see her at the Emergency Department after I put a couple Mentos and some Diet Coke in my mouth.
"Uh, hi. Can I get a rabies test?"
Guy No. 2