Everything You Need to Know to See the Famous Austin Bats
You’ve probably heard that we like to keep it weird here in Austin. In keeping with that tradition, one of the city’s most popular attractions is a unique one: bat watching at the Congress Avenue Bridge. It’s a special experience to see over a million Mexican free-tail bats fly out from under the bridge at dusk, and you won’t find another colony like this anywhere else in the world.
Whether you think bats are cute or a little creepy, you’re sure to be mesmerized by their nightly flight. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit to the bat bridge in Austin.
Where can you see the bats in Austin, Texas?
When they’re in Austin, the bats take shelter under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, which goes over the popular Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. You can enjoy the show from anywhere near the bridge, whether you choose to stand on the bridge itself, on the lake shore, or see them from the water (more on that below!).
When is Austin bat season?
These flying mammals head south for the winter, and when the weather gets warmer in the northern hemisphere, they fly back to Central Texas. The Austin bats typically arrive in early spring, around mid-March, and stay until it starts to get cold again, around October or November.
Why do bats congregate at the bridge?
In 1980, Congress Avenue Bridge underwent a renovation that turned the underside into an ideal spot for bats to roost. The expansive concrete arch bridge accommodates the largest urban bat colony in the world — its numbers can reach up to 1.5 million bats!
This is a maternity colony, which means that most of them are pregnant females when they arrive in the spring. They give birth to their pups in early June, and they teach them to fly and hunt before it’s time to fly south in the fall (male bats don’t come under the bridge until the pups are born).
What time do the bats come out in Austin?
Bats are nocturnal, so they spend the day snoozing under the bridge and start to wake up around sunset. As the sun gets low in the sky, the first bats venture out, and once it gets dark at dusk, they stream out by the thousands in emerging columns.
The exact time depends on the sunset and varies throughout the season, but for a good estimate, you can check the time on the Austin Bat Refuge website.
What’s the best way to see the bats?
You can’t really miss the black cloud of bats as they cover the sky. Any vantage point near the lake will give you a pretty good view. Here are some of the most popular spots:
- Congress Avenue Bridge: Be sure to arrive early to grab a front-row spot on the sidewalk before it gets too crowded, and face east as this is the direction the bats fly in.
- The Statesman Bat Observation Center: This spot offers a great view of the bridge, lake, and bats. You can find parking at the Austin American-Statesman lot or along the street. There are plenty of spots to set up on the observation deck or the nearby lawns. Bring a blanket, chairs and a picnic for a fun night!
- Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail: Enjoy a late afternoon hike or ride, then stick around for the show. For the best views, find a spot east of the bridge without too many trees to block the view. (Just be mindful of other people using the trail and don’t block their path.)
- Lady Bird Lake: One of the most exciting views is from the water. As you look up, the bats are backlit by the last of the day’s light, making for unforgettable views and awesome photos. Book an Austin bat tour to paddle on the beautiful lake and find the best spot before the nightly flight begins.
Are the bats dangerous?
No, the bats are not dangerous. These bats feed on insects, and they actually help keep insect populations under control. If you’re viewing the bats from right underneath their flight path, the biggest danger is bat droppings. Wear a hat and waterproof jacket!
If you see an injured bat on the ground, don’t touch it or pick it up. They are wild animals at the end of the day. Contact Austin Bat Refuge if you’re concerned about a bat.
What’s the etiquette for bat viewing?
Follow these simple tips to help protect the bat population:
- Don’t shine bright white lights on the bats as they emerge.
- Don’t make loud noises (like yelling, clapping, or playing music) within 100 feet of the bridge.
- Don’t fly drones within 20 feet of the emerging bat columns.
- Don’t try to capture or handle bats in any way.
Don’t miss out on this rare experience while in Austin! Book a kayak tour to see the bats, or explore other fun activities on Lady Bird Lake.