From March to October (typically), 1.5 million bats emerge nightly from narrow but deep crevices in the underside of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. They usually start to emerge from the bridge around 20 minutes before sundown. Scroll down for a listing of typical sunset times in Austin by month.
Due to a mild winter in 2017 (and possibly climate change), the bats returned to Austin in mid-February instead of early March.
Experts have not yet determined if this marks a permanent change in the bats' annual migration pattern.
Austin Bats Parking
The most convenient parking lot is right next to the bridge near the Austin American-Statesman office at 305 South Congress Avenue. The fee is $7 for up to four hours. If you don’t mind walking, though, there is a free lot about 1/4 mile to the west next to the South 1st Street bridge. This lot is primarily used by walkers and joggers visiting the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail and Auditorium Shores. It’s busy, but people also come and go frequently. You can park here for only two hours, but that should be plenty of time for bat viewing if you arrive just before sundown. The bats generally take about 45 minutes to fully emerge from the bridge. There are also smaller free lots along Riverside Drive.
Best Viewing Sites
The walkway on the east side of the Congress Avenue bridge offers the best vantage point for watching the bats emerge and fly eastward over Lady Bird Lake.
The hillside below the bridge is a little more kid-friendly since you can spread out a blanket and even have a picnic while you wait. From this perspective, you’ll get a close-up view as they emerge, but then they quickly disappear over the trees that border the lake. Also, on the hillside, you do run a slight risk of being bombarded by a little bat pee or poop (aka guano).
It’s rarely more than a sprinkle, but it does happen.
With just a little advance planning, though, you can get an even better view from the water. You can rent kayaks and canoes by the hour from several businesses along the shoreline. Some of them even provide knowledgeable guides who share fun facts about the bats as you paddle. Capital Cruises also has two large tour boats for groups.
The Eastern View
While the bulk of the bat viewing activity occurs near the Congress Avenue Bridge, you can also get a completely different perspective from points further east along Lady Bird Lake. The eastern edge of the lake is bordered by Longhorn Dam at Pleasant Valley Road. You can watch the bats from the bridge just above the dam or along the hike and bike trail closer to the lakeshore. If you rent a kayak from Live, Love, Paddle on Riverside Drive about 30 minutes before sunrise and paddle eastward at a leisurely pace, you’ll soon see a black cloud of bats overhead.
Peak Bat Season
In June, the mom bats of this species of Mexican free-tailed bats (scientific name: Tadarida brasiliensis) give birth to one tiny pup. The pups feed from mammary glands located under the mother’s wings, not on the chest as in most mammal species.
The pups are usually ready to fly by mid-August, which means the black cloud of bats emerging from the bridge is even more impressive during this time. In fact, the size of the colony virtually doubles because almost all of the bats that roost at the bridge are female. The males of the species don’t play any role in child rearing and usually roost in separate colonies.
Why Do the Bats Roost Here?
A redesign of the bridge in 1980 created crevices on the underside of the structure that were the perfect size for cozy bat homes. At the time, many Austin residents despised and feared the bats and tried to have the colony eradicated. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and now Austinites love their bat colony. They also welcome the flying mammals’ voracious diet. The bats consume up to 20,000 pounds of bugs nightly.
Where to Eat Before or After
Several restaurants near the bat bridge offer a wide range of dining options for every budget. If it’s comfort food you’re craving, Threadgill’s World Headquarters is walking distance from the bridge.
March to October Average Sunset Times (Central Time)
March: 7:40 p.m.
April: 8:02 p.m.
May: 8:21 p.m.
June: 8:36 p.m.
July: 8:32 p.m.
August: 8:05 p.m.
September: 7:28 p.m.
October: 6:54 p.m.
While Bat Conservation International no longer operates a bat hotline, the group does provide a daily estimate of viewing times for the bats in Austin, Texas on its website.