Bat City USA tells how a giant colony of bats “€invaded”€ an Austin bridge and were met with fear and hostility by residents. When the city threatened to exterminate the bats, a zealous conservationist named Merlin Tuttle stepped in and fought to save them.

Thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats begin moving into a downtown Austin bridge in the 1980s, after a bridge renovation leaves gaps between beams that create ideal roosting space. The “bat invasion” causes a media hoopla and the sensational headlines attract the attention of Tuttle, a bat researcher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Tuttle moves to Austin, where he faces opposition from residents who want to exterminate the colony because of rabies concerns. Tuttle becomes an expert at photographing bats without depicting them as bared-teeth aggressors. He uses his photos to change the bats’ image from that of disease carriers to desirable creatures.

Talking up bats to anyone who will listen, Tuttle tries to persuade locals of the bats’ benefits to save the colony from destruction.

Bat City USA is a must-see film for bat lovers and conservationists worldwide. The 54-minute documentary has been screened in several Texas film festivals, West Virginia, and the Reel Earth 2013 Film Festival in New Zealand.

The Congress Avenue bat colony is estimated to contain 1.5 million bats at the peak of bat season in August. Austin’s now beloved colony became a reality through an accidental but fortuitous set of circumstances related to the construction method used when Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) engineers widened the Congress Avenue bridge across the Colorado River in the 1980’s.

TxDOT engineers working in concert with Bat Conservation Iinternational, the group founded by Tuttle, developed construction techniques to encourage or exclude bats in new bridge projects. Our beneficial bat friends responded accordingly by populating these new “bat friendly” habitats in large numbers and consuming large numbers of insects in the surrounding areas. State highway engineers have since built many “bat friendly” bridges throughout Texas.

In June, 2010, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell declared the bat the official animal of the city of Austin during The Night of the Bat event. Adam West, who played Batman in the original TV series, was honored by Mayor Leffingwell and rode across the Congress Bridge towards the Texas state capitol in the original Bat Mobile.

Shooting Locations

Our documentary takes viewers to several bat colonies including the Congress Avenue Bridge, Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area near Fredericksburg, the McNeil Bridge in Round Rock, and a small bat cave on private property near Austin. Bat emergence sequences were filmed at Congress Avenue Bridge, Bracken Cave, and McNeil Bridge.

 

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