When dusk settles in and the remnants of a beautiful summer sky are fading from view, something swoops down seemingly directly at you! This is a common-enough scene in the summertime as bats flit around looking for insects. Bats may not be the most loved animal by humans, but a few predators out there are more than happy to get close to them.
Some of the most common natural predators of bats include birds of prey such as owls, hawks, and falcons. Animals like snakes, raccoons, minks, weasels, fish, and frogs also eat bats. Bats have a few ways of protecting themselves from predators such as echolocation, swarming, and being nocturnal.
Let’s dive into the world of bats and take a close look at all of their natural predators. First, let’s go over how these tiny (and sometimes not-so-tiny!) mammals defend themselves from hungry predators.
How Do Bats Defend Themselves From Predators?
There are thousands of species of bats in the world, with 47 residing in the United States. They range in size from the greater mastiff bat which has a wingspan of nearly 2 feet to the minuscule western pipistrelle bat with a wingspan of just 8 inches.
Many bat species share the same defense mechanisms to avoid predators. However, the truth is, bats do not fall prey very often. According to the Smithsonian Institute, if bats can survive the first few months of life, they are likely to grow to a ripe old age which can be up to 30 years old!
Bats are most likely to be taken by a predator when they are young or if they are very old and in failing health. When they’re in their prime, bats have several ways to evade and defend against predators.
Bats Are Nocturnal And Hide During The Day
One defense mechanism of bats is to only come out of hiding at night. This means they are less likely to run into some of their daytime predators such as hawks and falcons. During the day, bats find nice little spots to tuck away for the day and hide from the watchful eyes of hungry predators. These places might include:
- Cracks and crevices in rocks
- Abandoned mines
- Eaves of roofs
- Chimneys & attics (Yikes!)
Some species of bats roost together, helping to increase security in case a predator slips into their sleeping quarters.
If you’re interested in learning more, take a peak at our in-depth piece on where bats go during the day!
They Swarm For Protection
You’ve probably seen a movie or show where thousands of bats fly out of a cave together, usually with a screaming person in the background. That isn’t just for dramatic effect – some bats will swarm like this to help avoid predators!
According to a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the idea behind swarming is to confuse the predator and make it difficult for the predator to single out one bat.
In this case, bats specifically try to confound aerial predators like owls, hawks, and falcons. The bigger the swarm, the more chaos.
Bats Can Fly Away From Predators
When bats aren’t being chased down by owls and hawks, they may be pursued by land-bound predators like raccoons and weasels. One advantage that bats have over these terrestrial predators is the ability to fly.
If bats are perched in a tree and a hungry raccoon comes around, they can fly away to avoid being eaten. Speaking of trees, you can check out our article on the 7 Best Ways to Keep Bats Away From Your Trees.
When in flight, bats are incredibly agile, giving them an advantage over flying predators as well. Unlike birds, a bat’s flight muscles are attached to its shoulder instead of its rib cage. This makes them impressively light and nimble.
They Use Echolocation To Locate Predators
We’ve probably all heard the expression ‘blind as a bat’ at least once in our lives. The phrase is used under the mistaken belief that bats cannot see. While bats are colorblind, they are certainly not visually blind.
Being nocturnal means light levels are low, which makes having great vision less of an advantage than it would be during the day. Instead of depending on their sight, bats use sound to navigate their world. Specifically, they use echolocation.
Bats emit supersonic sounds and listen for the echo that gets reflected back when their cries hit off of objects. This is how they avoid flying into objects, how they find food mid-flight, and how they can avoid a silently-flying owl that’s swooping in for a meal.
You can use their advanced sense of hearing to repel them with specific sounds and noises that scare bats!
Bats Emit Distress Calls
Bats make a lot of racket while roosting and while flying out and about in search of food. They have even been known to purr!
In addition to normal supersonic sounds to give them an idea of where they are, bats also emit distress calls when they see predators. An article in the Journal of Comparative Physiology found that distress calls serve two purposes:
- To warn other bats that potential danger is around
- To warn predators that the bat is prepared to defend itself.
This clever defense mechanism helps nearby bats to flee the area quickly and avoid becoming a meal. It also serves to deter predators who may be less inclined to go after a bat once the bat realizes it is there.
9 Natural Predators That Eat Bats
Despite a bat’s best efforts, there are still times when predators are successful in their pursuit of these flying mammals. Many predators on our list have developed ways to get around a bat’s defense mechanism. Others are simply sneaky enough to catch bats off guard while they are sleeping.
By the way, if you’re having problems with bats in and around your house, we recommend trying out a bat box!
Bat boxes will give bats a home away from your house but keep them close enough to chow down on all those pesky mosquitoes and nighttime flying insects. Applewood Outdoor’s Premium Grade Cedar Bat House is a great choice to lure bats away from your house, especially if their natural predators aren’t getting the job done!
Now that we know how bats defend themselves, let’s check out the predators that have had success in going after these nimble fliers.
First on our list are the fearsome owls. These birds may look all fluffy and cute in photos, but they are serious predators and often influence the environment around them because they are so good at catching their prey.
There are three species of owls that are more likely to target bats than the others:
- Tawny owl
- Barn Owl
- Long-eared Owl
An article in the Journal of Mammal Review took a look at these three owls and their impact on bat populations in the British Isles. They found that during one year, over 187,000 bats became meals for these birds!
That’s only in the British Isles…
When comparing urban habitats against forested habitats, owls were most likely to go after bats in urban settings. This might seem strange, but all of our artificial lights are attractive to insects, which in turn attract bats, which in turn attract owls.
Normally, hawks are daytime predators that use their excellent vision to scope out small rodents and rabbits for a meal. In areas where bats and hawks coexist, there is a golden hour when hawks are still awake and bats become active.
The most likely place that hawks go after bats is where bats exit a cave or other roosting area in a swarm. Some of the hawks that are known to go after bats include:
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Swainson Hawk
- Marsh Hawk
Cooper’s hawk and sharp-shinned hawks tend to be more successful than the rest. One study found that the success rate of Cooper’s hawks sits at around 90%.
Hawks use two different methods to catch bats while they are swarming. The first way is to target a specific bat and attempt to catch it. The second method is a more recent discovery.
Instead of targeting specific bats, scientists have realized that many hawks will simply target a fixed point within the swarm and catch whatever is in their path. This negates a bat’s swarming defense mechanism by eliminating all the confusion of the flying bats.
Bats and snakes should be mortal enemies, right? Don’t snakes go after rodents all the time? This is a common misconception about bats – they are not in the rodent family but rather belong to the order Chiroptera.
Nonetheless, there are a few snakes that will go after bats. Most of these snakes are those that climb into trees and find a sleeping bat during the day. They may also be snakes that are willing to sneak into caves where bats are roosting.
According to an article in the Brazilian Journal of Zoology, boas and colubrid snakes are the most popular predators of bats, though their predation on bats is small compared to other prey items like rodents and small mammals.
In the U.S., three snakes seem to target bats the most:
- Rat snakes: These pest control professionals are docile, non-venomous, and talented tree-climbers. They can be found all across the U.S. and are part of the colubrid family. They usually prey on bats in trees.
- Rubber boa: One of only two species of boa that are native to North America. The rubber boa is a constrictor found in the western United States. It either finds bats in trees or in caves.
- Rosy boa: This constrictor is only found in the Southwest, mainly in California and Arizona. Like the rubber boa, the rosy boa is most likely to go after bats in trees or in caves where bats roost in large numbers.
Snakes are not likely to be significant predators of bats. This is mainly because bats can fly and snakes cannot. The only opportunity that snakes have to catch a bat is while it is sleeping or if it accidentally falls to the cavern floor while roosting.
Also known as trash pandas, raccoons are mischievous little animals that will eat just about anything that crosses their path, including bats.
Recently, raccoons have been under the scope of many scientists’ microscopes because of their predation on hibernating bats. While there’s not a lot of information about this in the United States, an article reported in the Journal of Mammalian Biology found that in the Nietoperek nature reserve (a bat reserve in Poland), hibernating bats made up 96% of the raccoon diet in that area.
This suggests that raccoons eating bats may only happen under very specific circumstances such as when bats are hibernating or when raccoon populations are high and the demand for food is high.
In the United States, it is not likely that bats make up a significant part of a raccoon’s diet. Bats that hibernate in old trees are the most likely victims of raccoons.
Minks are common enough throughout the United States but they are rarely seen. They love the water, which can put them near a few species of bats that specialize in catching insects near the top of the water such as the Silver-Haired bat.
Bats are most likely to fall prey to minks when they roost or hibernate in trees. However, there are some instances where minks prey on bats in caves, especially in Kentucky. An article in the Journal of Mammalogy notes that predation on bats in caves is seasonal and not likely to be a common occurrence during the rest of the year.
Like owls and raccoons, minks are most active at night at the same time when bats are active. Minks are talented climbers and use their sense of smell to locate bats. Minks will often take down more prey than they need and cache it somewhere close by for a later meal.
Weasels have a similar size and shape to minks, but weasels are usually smaller and have lighter fur. Something they both have in common is that they eat bats!
Like minks, weasels are most likely to go after bats that are sleeping or hibernating in old trees. They may also occasionally prowl for bats in caves. They use their keen sense of hearing and smell to locate potential prey like bats.
Weasels can be active at any time during the day, but they tend to lean towards a nocturnal nature, especially when out on the prowl for food. Weasels may be small, but they are quite vicious and have no problems taking down a bat using their powerful jaws.
Like hawks, falcons are most active during the day. There is a small window during the day when falcons are still active and bats are waking up to start their nighttime flight. This dawn/dusk time is the most likely time when falcons go after bats.
One species of falcon, the bat falcon, seems to be somewhat specialized in preying on bats. These falcons have only recently made their way into the United States, with the first sighting being in Texas in 2021.
Besides the rare sightings of bat falcons, there are only 6 species of falcons commonly found in the United States, only four of which are willing to go after bats:
- Peregrine falcon
- American kestrel
Gyrfalcons rarely go after bats, while the other three may prey on them regularly when the opportunity arises.
Bats are not likely to be a major food source for falcons. Like owls and hawks, falcons target bats when they exit in large numbers from a roosting location such as a cave or abandoned mine.
This one probably comes as a surprise. It certainly did for me! Fish preying on bats? As unlikely as it sounds, it’s true, but probably a very rare phenomenon.
A few fish are more likely than others to target bats:
According to an article in the European Journal of Ecology, salmon had the highest percentage of attempts at eating bats (39%). They also note that fish prey on bats only on very rare occasions, and no fish prey exclusively on bats.
The most likely reason why a fish would prey on a bat is if a perfect storm came together. The bat would have to fall into the water source near the fish and the fish would have to be large enough to be able to take the bat.
The chances of these two things happening simultaneously without the bat escaping are small…
The other reason a fish may go after a bat is if the bat is skimming close to the water for insects and the fish is willing to break the surface of the water to go after the bat. Again, the chances of this happening are small, but not impossible!
Another surprising predator of bats is frogs. These hoppy amphibians may be small, but they will eat literally anything that they can fit in their mouths.
The most common types of frogs that will eat bats in the U.S. are tree frogs and bullfrogs. Most tree frogs live in the eastern and southeastern United States, but there are some, such as the Pacific tree frog, that live in the west. bullfrogs can be found in the central and eastern portions of the United States.
Like fish, frogs prey on bats very rarely. In most instances, this happens when bats fly low over water sources or are drinking at the water’s edge.
Another instance where a frog might go after a bat is when bats roost in damp caves that overhang water sources. Frogs will also go after bats if they are in close vicinity to buildings where frogs can climb up to where bats are sleeping and catch them by surprise.
That’s A Wrap!
Bats are common throughout most of the United States but are rarely a welcome sight to people. These interesting animals are the only mammals who have conquered the ability to fly. They’re also excellent pest controllers as they eat gnats, mosquitoes, and a ton of other annoying flying insects.
It’s not common for bats to be eaten by predators. The only time this occurs with any regularity is when bats are very young or very old.
Now, for a quick recap.
The 9 natural predators that eat bats include:
Owls seem to be the most successful predator of bats, but hawks, snakes, falcons, and minks aren’t far behind. Raccoons, weasels, fish, and frogs eat bats on rare occasions or if the opportunity arises.
Bats may be small, but they certainly aren’t defenseless! When faced with a predator, bats use their amazing agility to fly away. They also use distress calls and echolocation to avoid becoming a meal.
If you’re having problems with bats around your home and their natural predators aren’t getting the job done, you can always reach out to a professional to help you get rid of your bat problem!
Brighton, C.H., Kloepper, L.N., Harding, C.D. et al. Raptors avoid the confusion effect by targeting fixed points in dense aerial prey aggregations. Nat Commun 13, 4778 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-32354-5
Esberard, C. E.L., & Vrcibradic, D. (2007, September). Snakes preying on bats: new records from Brazil and a review of recorded cases in the Neotropical Region. Scientific Communication, 24(3), 848-853.
Hechavarría, J.C., Beetz, M.J., Macias, S. et al. Distress vocalization sequences broadcasted by bats carry redundant information. J Comp Physiol A 202, 503–515 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-016-1099-7
Mikula, P. (2015). Fish and amphibians as bat predators. European Journal of Ecology, 1(1), 71-80.
Olson Randal S., Hintze Arend, Dyer Fred C., Knoester David B. and Adami Christoph 2013Predator confusion is sufficient to evolve swarming behaviourJ. R. Soc. Interface. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2013.0305