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 The Bats & Bridge Kayak Tour (Viator) offers the chance to see the nightly bat show from a kayak!
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.
The best view of the stream of bats coming out is from beneath the bridge. There’s a parklet called the Statesman Bat Observation Center that has lawn space and informational boards.
Still, it’s also fun to stand on the bridge and see the bats coming out right below you.
Bat Viewing in Austin: My Experiences
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.
The first time I went to Austin, 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.
My second Austin visit was this past year, in late March. It was chillier, so not as many bats came out. But there was still a steady stream of them coming just after sunset, and I got better pics since I was further away.
If you’re into quirky events – and if you’re reading this I presume you are – I’d recommend checking out the bats when you find yourself in Austin.
The Austin bridge may be the most famous place for bat-viewing, but there are plenty of other places to see bats in Texas.
Additional Tips for Seeing the Congress Avenue Bats
What time do the bats come out?
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 Tour, a leisurely 2.5-hour bicycle tour through Austin, with a stop to see the bats when they emerge.
Is there parking near the Austin bats?
Yes, actually. You may think it would be difficult to find parking in the immediate vicinity of the bridge, but there’s a paid parking lot right beneath the bridge.
Set your GPS to 305 S. Congress Ave. That’s the address of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. They offer parking for $12 in their lot each night to watch the bats.
Consider taking rideshare or public transit to get here if you don’t want to drive.
What’s the best time of year for bat viewing in Austin?
Consider visiting in August, when the annual Bat Fest event takes place, featuring live music and arts & crafts vendors. August is the peak month, as more bats are here at that time.
But as mentioned, you can view the bats as early as March, depending on the weather.
Why do the bats live in the Congress Ave. Bridge?
The bats found their way here in 1980 when the deck was reconstructed. This created crevices for the length of the bridge, which happen to be perfectly-sized for the small bats.
Fun fact: Every night, the bats consume between 10,000 and 30,000 pounds of insects. Just imagine how many mosquitoes it would take to add up to that much weight!
The bridge bats are among the quirky things that help to keep Austin weird. While you’re in Austin, make sure to check out the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and try some other outdoor activities, such as hiking and frisbee golf.
Recommended Austin Tours:
Would you be interested in bat viewing in Austin?