I didn’t believe it at first. The world’s largest urban bat colony? One and a half million bats, all living under one bridge in Austin, emerging every night at dusk to head out in search of their nightly insect buffet? I had to see this with my own eyes.
So there we were, myself and dozens of other curious parties, gathered together on the Ann Richards Congress Bridge on a random summer weeknight, with the regal sight of the state capitol building just down the street.
Recommended Tour: The Congress Avenue Bats Bike Tour (Viator)
Where to See the Bats in Austin, Texas
Reportedly, about 100,000 bats live here full-time, while others just come by during the summer to boost the population to more than a million.
In these extremely partisan political times, it might be hard to believe, but Texas did elect a Democratic governor as recently as the 1990s. Ann Richards served as governor in the early ’90s, preceding George W. Bush, and after her 2006 death, the Congress Avenue Bridge was renamed in her honor.
While most of us gathered on the bridge itself, a few congregated along the river shores. Others paid for “bat cruises” that took them out onto the river in a roofless aquatic vehicle with a giant bat statue in the back.
Bat Viewing in Austin: My Experience
Around sunset, the moment finally came, and the bats began pouring out from under the bridge, creating a massive black streak in the sky. Because of the twilight and the mediocre camera I was carrying at the time, I wasn’t able to capture many great photos of the bats themselves. And anyway, for the really good pics, I would’ve needed to go quite a distance away, to catch a wider shot.
Instead, I wanted to be right there on the bridge, just a few feet from these creatures as they came out. So I mostly ended up with shots like this, catching a few bats as they exited their daytime home.
The bats, of the Mexican free-tailed variety, typically come out every night around dusk from March to October. I visited in late May and that night they emerged around 8:30 and kept coming for more than 20 minutes. It was a spectacular sight.
The bat-watching experience was something I never expected and it ended up being one of the most memorable events of my three days in Austin. If you’re into quirky events – and if you’re reading this I presume you are – I’d recommend checking out the bats if you find yourself in Austin.
Additional Tips for Seeing the Congress Avenue Bats
For the optimal bat viewing experience, arrive at least 30 minutes before sunset. During hot weather, the bats will emerge before sunset. If it’s cooler or wet, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes after sunset. Check out Austin sunset times here.
Or if you like, join the Congress Avenue Bike TourLINK, a leisurely 2.5-hour bicycle tour through Austin, with a stop to see the bats when they emerge.
It’s difficult to find parking in the immediate vicinity of the bridge. Consider taking rideshare or public transit to get here. If you don’t want to stand on the bridge itself, head to the grassy areas near the bridge.
Consider visiting in August, when the annual Bat Fest event takes place, featuring live music and arts & crafts vendors.
Fun fact: Every night, the bats consume between 10,000 and 30,000 pounds of insects. Just imagine how many mosquitos it would take to add up to that much weight!
While you’re in Austin, make sure to check out the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema!
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Would you be interested in bat viewing in Austin?