Why Build a Bat Box?

    Bats have been around more than 50 million years and there are more than 1400 species.  Yet most of us know little about them.  We may know about their scary appearances alongside witches and vampires in the dark of night in ghost stories and fairy tales.  But we may not know about the actual superhero work they do in pest control, plant pollination and seed dispersal.

    In the current era of climate change, environmental destruction and the global pandemic, bats increasingly are also being recognized as an important “indicator species” (https://www.bats.org.uk):  they give us signals of loss of biodiversity and they remind us of the risks and damages created by human encroachment on animal habitats.  In the era of Coronavirus 19 we are seeing how human interference and environmental destruction have created new pathways for viruses to jump ship and move over from the host animals with whom they have long peacefully cohabited to human populations where the same virus may wreak pandemic havoc.  Reclaiming and creating habitats for bats not only enables bats to continue to do essential work for the planet but will also help keep intact habitats for the viruses that live with them.

    Since 2006, millions of bats including the Quebec Northern long-eared bat have died from White Nose Syndrome WNS ( https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/what-is-white-nose-syndrome ).  WNS is caused by the Pd fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans).  The fungus wakes up hibernating bats causing them to deplete their winter fat stores too early and to die of starvation.  Bats with WNS may also leave their winter roosts too early flying out into freezing temperatures and dying of hypothermia.  Although humans are not affected by WNS, they are thought to be responsible for importing the Pd fungus spores to North America on shoes and clothing.  This is further evidence of the web that binds animal welfare to human activity and reason for humans to work to create and rehabilitate habitats for bats including building bat boxes, renaturalizing urban green spaces and yards and practising pesticide–free farming.

    Where Do Bats Live in Quebec?

    Bats live in roosts.  Two species — Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) and Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis) — are common to Quebec.  Both are non-migratory and hibernate in Quebec.

    Bats move around to different roosts at different times of year.  In summer, females gather in colonies in tight crevices to form a warm, safe maternity roost to have and nurse their young.  They may roost in tree hollows or under bark.  Or they may use the built environment and roost in barns or churches, under shingles or behind shutters, or in attics and roof spaces.  In winter, Quebec bats hibernate for 8-9 months in colonies in roosts that keep a stable, low temperature often underground in caves, mines, cellars and service tunnels where they will not be disturbed by light, noise or predators.

    The Work Bats Do

    Bats are mammals.  Like humans, they carry and nurse their young with milk.  But bats are also the only mammals that can fly and they like to hang upside down.   Unlike other mammals, bats are nocturnal:  they work and feed at night.

    Night is when bats do their important work: pest control.  Bats eat beetles, moths, mosquitoes, crickets and other insects.  The nocturnal work bats do eating insects saves North American farmers billions of dollars in crop damage by insects.  A healthy bat populations reduces the need for pesticide sprays.  Yet industrial agriculture relies on pesticides that destroy habitats for bats.  Large-scale commercial agriculture has also eliminated hedgerows and woods between fields that offered roosting sites for bats.

    Bats are also essential workers as pollinators.  Over 500 plant species rely on bats for pollination (https://www.batcon.org).  And some bats play a critical role in spreading the seeds of trees and other plants and can play an important role in reforestation after logging, fire and urban development projects.

    Loss of Bat Habitats

    Despite the essential work bats do for humans as pest exterminators, plant pollinators and seed spreaders, humans are the main cause of the startlingly rapid decline in bat populations worldwide.  Urban expansion destroys natural woodland habitats.  Bats have adapted by making roosts in buildings but chemicals and plastics now used in construction make new buildings uninhabitable for bats. Human use of pesticides and intensive farming practices kill insect populations that are bats’ only source of food.  Highways create open spaces that bats have difficulty crossing: bats like to fly close to trees for protection from weather and predators or they fly close to the ground which puts them in the path of traffic.  As nocturnal animals, bats are disturbed by night pollution — excess lighting from streetlights, for example.  So bats delay leaving their roosts after dusk reducing the time they can forage for insects.  This puts the survival and growth of their young at risk.

    For bat populations to recover and survive, we need to create new habitats and enhance the habitats that remain.  More people are starting to protect bats by building bat houses and by keeping their gardens chemical-free.  Their rewards are:  natural insect control, no bats in their cellars or attics and lots of fun bat-watching.

    Building a Bat Box

    Bat houses should be made of exterior plywood or rough cedar and be at least 24” tall and 14” wide and 2”-3” deep so bats can move around.

    For bats to hang easily, the inside should have grooves every ¼” or be lined with 1/8” plastic mesh stapled to lie flat.

    To protect the bats from blue jays, racoons, snakes or other predators, entrance slots should be no deeper than ¾” – 1”.

    The house should have a landing that extends 4”-6” below the entrance to allow bats easy access in and out.

    An angled roof will allow rain to run off.

    A ventilation slot about one-third of the way from the bottom will give the bats warmer and cooler areas to move between.

    Caulked joints will help bats keep warm and dry.

    Galvanized screws will prolong the life of the house.

    Choosing a site for your bat house:

    To take flight, bats usually need to free-fall several feet when leaving the house to feed at night.  Mount bat house at least 12 feet off the ground, the higher the better to be safe from predators.

    Bats need an open area around the entrance to give them room to swoop in and out of the house.  Make sure there is at least 15-20 feet clearance in front of the house.

    Bats like a warm place to raise their young.  Face your bat house south or southeast to take advantage of direct sunlight.  Paint the exterior of the house with a non-toxic black paint to absorb the sun’s heat.

    For bat house designs, check out:  www.batconservation.org.  See also “Putting up a Bat House” at: https://cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/bats/bat-house.html

    The Fight for Meadowbrook Park: Thirty Years and Counting

    Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook is celebrating its 30th year of advocating for a park at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Lachine/Côte Saint-Luc. To commemorate the event, the group created a timeline of events over those years and posted it on its website.

    And what a thirty years it was! It involved at least half a dozen housing proposals for the site, three lawsuits and an equal number of appeals. Three commissions recommended that the green space be preserved. The cast of characters ranged from Phyllis Lambert, founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, to Charles Bedzow, Second World War freedom fighter and current owner of the golf course. Almost every major environmental group operating on the island had some involvement: the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, CRE Montreal, the Sierra Club and the Green Coalition. It swept up many institutions in its wake, including McGill’s School of Urban Planning. And it involved countless citizen supporters. At one point, so many busloads of citizens arrived at Montreal City Hall that the administration had to bar the doors.

    The early years of the fight to preserve Meadowbrook were tumultuous. Côte Saint-Luc council meetings were packed and boisterous. TV cameras whirred; bystanders heckled; local security called for reinforcement. Petitions were started; flyers were distributed door to door; newspapers printed riveting stories.

    It led to some memorable quotes. Because the golf course is traversed and surrounded by train tracks and because it sits next to the largest rail yard in eastern Canada, there are always concerns about toxic spills. At the same time, these rail yards limit egress in case of a train accident. In order to allay the fears of potential buyers, one of the development scenarios proposed that houses come equipped with shatterproof glass windows and ventilation cut-off systems. This led Côte Saint-Luc councillor Glenn Nashen to exclaim, “What a lovely concept for family homeowners!”

    It was also fraught with contradictions. In 2010, Montreal signed the Declaration of the Island of Montreal Community in favour of biodiversity and greening at the Biodiversity Summit held in Montreal. Projet Montréal Councillor Peter McQueen took the opportunity to put forth a motion to preserve Meadowbrook. It was defeated on Earth Day.

    It even had its own Greta Thunberg. Maya Fedida, a student from Herzliah High School, asked Executive Committee Member Alan DeSousa to kill the development project and make Meadowbrook a park. He responded by saying that he had told the developer, “No.” The City was not interested in developing Meadowbrook.

    It was not without intrigue. Secret negotiations were held with the developers, and illegal lobbying had been going on for years over the efforts to have the golf course developed.

    In 2014, following public hearings on the Montreal Urban Agglomeration Land Use and Development Plan, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) recommended, once again, that Meadowbrook be preserved. In order to ensure that the Executive Committee accept the recommendations of the OCPM, citizens went into action, holding weekly meetings throughout the holiday season, starting a letter-writing campaign and phoning every councillor on Montreal City Council. Finally, after hours and hours of work by numerous citizens: victory. The Executive Committee designated Meadowbrook as green/recreational—a first step toward becoming a park.

    This never was a project against housing. Rather, it was a fight for ready access to natural spaces. Meadowbrook is the only area in this part of the island that can provide such space. We spend most of our life within the city and we want access to natural spaces. We know that natural spaces provide considerable health, social and economic benefits.

    May it not take another thirty years for Meadowbrook to become a park!


    Al Hayek, member of Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook


    Click on the link below to begin your interactive journey of Montreal’s political and environmental history in three sections complete with photos, quotes, original news clippings, and links to videos and other documents. Enjoy!


    Compiled by Louise Legault, with help from from Sally Cole and Al Hayek and designed by Narges Haghighat.


    This is followed by MEADOWBROOK THROUGH THE CENTURIES- A TIMELINE OF LAND USE   by Angela Rahaniotis with Sally Cole and Larry Paul

    The St. Pierre River – Two years later

    In July 2018, Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook shone a light on the condition of the St. Pierre River where it flows through Meadowbrook. A Superior Court decision had just been handed down requiring the City of Montreal to stop polluting what is left of a once-mighty river. But what had seemed like a good idea proved complicated to execute.

    The City of Montreal was aware of the pollution as early as 2002, as identified in sampling done by the Réseau de suivi des milieux aquatiques at the time. The pollution appears to come from residential sewers in Montreal West and Côte Saint-Luc that are connected to the rainwater system rather than to sanitary installations. A 2014 City of Montreal study of the Toe Blake rainwater collector showed 250 such crossed connections.

    Repairing faulty connections is costly. They must first be located; then roadways must be excavated down to the storm sewers, which are usually much deeper than the sanitary installations. These connections often date back to the building of the house, and current occupants may not be aware of the situation. At issue is who is responsible for the repairs.

    Because the problem was a long-standing one, the Superior Court gave the City of Montreal two years to correct it. The City appealed unsuccessfully. Facing a hard deadline, the City chose to divert the Toe Blake collector during dry periods. The collector would then continue to play its role during storms, averting overflow and potential flooding of basements.

    The work was done in February of this year, and has changed the river significantly. The City promised to set the level of the collector to avoid the river running dry. Many Meadowbrook members have contacted us over the months to report extremely low water levels in the river, which is often just a series of unconnected puddles dotting the rocky riverbed and becomes a river again only after a good downpour.

    Les Amis spoke to Professor Daniel Rivest of UQAM to learn the impact of changing water levels on the river’s ecosystem. He pointed out that the transitory nature of the river would prevent benthic macroinvertebrates from settling permanently on the riverbed. These insects, worms and crustaceans are a prime indicator of the health of a river or lake. They are an important link in the food chain, as a source of food for fish, amphibians and birds. Some species act as filters, while others break down matter and cause it to decompose and can therefore play a role in cleaning up a stream. Some species can survive drought, others cannot. Protecting the river is vital to preserve this ecosystem and the animals that depend on it.

    Studies of the St. Pierre River

    Two studies of the St. Pierre River have recently been published. The first was done by Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook at the invitation of the Istituto per la Bioeconomia of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, for an international conference on daylighting rivers to be held in December in Florence, Italy.

    You can learn more about the history of the St. Pierre, its challenges and future here:

    Download (PDF, 724KB)

    Meadowbrook members Kregg Hetherington and Tricia Toso of the Concordia University Ethnography Lab have also taken a closer look at the river in a recently published article https://www.anthropocenes.net/articles/10.16997/ahip.6/

    Good reading!