For his senior project, Hazleton Area student Zane Williams gave the Pennsylvania Game Commission a hand banding Canada geese over the summer.
For his Eagle Scout project, Williams switched to bats.
The 17 year old spent the last few months constructing maternity boxes for bats - 10 of them in all. On Tuesday, Williams was joined with PGC biologists Kevin Wenner and Rich Fritsky to erect the boxes in the Drums area. It’s a project that will benefit both wildlife and the community, which is a perfect combination to aid in Williams’ quest to become an Eagle Scout.
The boxes, he said, will benefit bats as they leave their hibernation sites in search of a maternity colony. And the bats, Williams added, benefit the community by devouring insects.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of all is the boxes will aid a bat population that has plummeted to almost non-existent levels among some species due to White Nose Syndrome. Williams said the project educated him on just how serious the situation is.
“I heard some talk about it, but not until I started this project did I become fully aware of just how devastated the bat population is,” he said. “It feels really good giving back to wildlife and the outdoors. It’s the right thing to do.”
Williams has already established himself as an accomplished outdoorsman rather quickly. He is an avid hunter and soon-to-be Eagle Scout and serves as the vice president of his school’s Sport Shooting Club and the secretary of the Hunting and Fishing Club.
Partnering with the Game Commission for his Eagle Scout project was a perfect fit for Williams.
“When I worked with the Game Commission on the goose banding, it gave me a new perspective as a hunter, kind of what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to working with wildlife,” Williams said. “After that, I wanted to do more with the Game Commission so Kevin helped me get started with this. It’s good to have a hands-on role in helping wildlife.”
Because Williams’ bat boxes are designed to be used as a maternity colony, constructing them was a little bit complicated he said. The slots inside had to be spaced at a half-inch in order to accommodate bats so they could roost and move up and down inside the box. The wooden boxes are painted black and are erected facing south so they can absorb heat. And inside each box Williams painstakingly roughed up the wood with files and chisels so the bats could cling to it.
As a final touch, Williams cut vents in the box to allow for air flow.
Williams said it took about 40 minutes to build each box.
“It was a challenge with some of the measurements and making sure I had the right materials, but it got easier as I made a few,” Williams said.
The key for use as a maternity colony, according to Fritsky, is the black color.
“It’s going to be used like a nursery for bats, so it needs to absorb that sunlight and get warm for them,” he said. “It will get warmer at the top of the box, so the slots inside allow the bats to move up and down to find that ideal temperature.
“Bats are leaving their hibernation sites now so they’ll be looking for maternity locations.”
On Tuesday, Williams screwed each box to a pressure-treated post and with the help of Fritsky and Wenner set each one in the ground so the box was approximately 10 feet high. Each spot was selected due to various features on the landscape that made it conducive to bats. The most important factor, according to Wenner, is a water source.
“At a couple sites today we had irrigation ponds nearby along with farmland. Between the insects coming off the pond at night and the crop pests in the fields, there is a tremendous amount of food available,” Wenner said. “At some locations there were also good roost trees nearby, such as shagbark hickory. Bats like to cling to the loose bark.”
Because populations have declined significantly, erecting boxes is a simple project that could go a long way to saving the remaining numbers of bats. Before White Nose Syndrome surfaced several years ago, Fritsky said it would only take a few days before a box was full of bats.
“Now, it’s just not as likely,” he said.
But another obstacle facing bats is habitat loss. Wenner said a lot of the old barns and outbuildings they used to inhabit are being torn down and replaced with new metal structures that don’t have any openings for bats.
“As bats continue to lose places like that, these boxes offer an alternative habitat,” he said. “Anything we can do to support the bats that are left is crucial.”