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Going Batty With P&S Country Crafts

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - July 13, 2011





Bats have certainly gotten a bad reputation over the years. Although quite small, these creatures can easily scare a big, strong man when they swoop by on a summer’s night. What is it about the fluttering, winged creatures that instill such fear in people?

It may be the old wife’s tale of bats flying in a night sky and getting tangled in a person’s hair. Or it might be the movies with stories of vampires turning into blood-sucking bats that have turned the real-life, everyday bat into a villainous monster of the night.

Although Paul and Sue Sodano of Bristol, NH have heard scary stories about bats, they have a great respect for and knowledge of bats. So it isn’t surprising they have turned their interest in bats into a hobby/small business called P&S Country Crafts. The couple make and sell bat houses as well as other fine wooden products at craft fairs and through the NH Audubon Society’s Concord, NH shop, online at their website and via the NH Made group of artisans.

“We started making bat houses about four years ago,” says Paul from his Bristol home where he maintains a woodworking studio. “I was always interested in bats, but when we heard of the White Nose Syndrome we wanted to do something to help.”

What is the White Nose Syndrome? Paul and Sue are a wealth of information about the disease that is killing hundreds of harmless little brown and large brown bats. “It’s a disease native to New England and as far south as Virginia and as far west as Arizona. It has also been killing bats in Canada. For some reason, which no one has figured out yet, brown bats are waking up too early in the spring and coming out of caves with a fungus on their beards. It’s killing the bat population and seems to be confined to bats hibernating in caves. No one knows yet what causes it but it’s serious. If we lose the bat population, it could be a $39 billion hit to agriculture and it would mean we would need to resort to using pesticides on crops to keep the insects off plants, which no one wants.”

Why? Simply put, it’s because bats eat insects. In fact bats eat a staggering amount of insects, and make our cookouts, sunbathing and other outside summer activities much more pleasant because of their large appetite for insects (in particular, mosquitos). “Bats control insects,” Paul adds. Without them the number of pesky mosquitos would be much, much higher and we would feel the difference.

It’s time to change our thinking about bats and help them survive the disease that threatens their population. That is just what Paul and Sue are doing when they build bat houses.

“When our kids got older, we had more time to do some of the things we like. We found we had time to learn more about bats. We discovered that because people are building tighter homes and winterizing existing homes and making them more air tight, bats have fewer place to go. They like warm homes, which is why they are found in attics and in such areas as church steeples in the summer. By making homes more air tight, bats are losing their natural and man-made habitats. Bat houses give them an alternative place to live,” Paul explains.

It took Paul and Sue five to six attempts before they perfected a bat house that would work and be acceptable to a brown bat. They worked with Bat Conservation International; the group gave them ideas and helped them refine the house design until they got it right. “We had 80 percent bat occupancy the first year we put the houses up,” Paul adds.

They learned over the years that a bat house must conform to a specific environment. Paul says that bats like a warm environment, so he paints the bat houses black to absorb as much heat as possible. Those who wish to put up a bat house should find a spot with six to eight hours of sunlight a day. The house should be placed on a pole 12-20 feet in height. It can be placed on the side of a house or a barn. Household noises and hornets do not bother bats. Squirrels avoid bat houses because there is not enough room to build a nest inside.

How do bats find the houses? “It’s trial and error, just like when you put up a birdhouse. It can take the bats time to find the bat house, but they will find it. We don’t exactly know how, but they do. You can put up a bat house any time of the year from summer to winter and it is 80 percent assured they will find and use the house,” Paul says.

All the wood used for the bat houses is bought locally and is all NH pine. It takes up to two hours to build a bat house, although from cutting the wood, painting it and putting it together, it is about two days total time.

“We don’t mass produce bat houses,” comments Paul. “We build each house individually. We sell the bat houses at craft fairs and farmer’s markets. Also, we sell them at the Concord Audubon Society and online at our website.

“We make the houses because we enjoy it. We’ve learned that there are many people who are really knowledgeable about bats and many who know nothing about bats. The uninformed are often influenced by television. They think many bats carry rabies; we have to convince them that bats are in reality good. If they knew that just one bat could eat 1,000 mosquitos in one night, it would change the perception. The average bat eats up to 12,000 metric tons of insects per year. That is a lot of insects!”

The perception that bats are scary creatures is changing all over the country. Paul says that in the southern U.S. a new trend is to have a bat house party. Guests and their hosts sit on their deck and watch the bat activity, which is really fascinating.

What about that old myth that bats attack people and land in their hair? “They don’t attack a person’s hair, but they might fly by to pursue the bugs that sometimes fly around a person’s head. Most bats avoid people and they are not as bad as we think,” says Paul.

Sue and Paul have two bat houses and often see bats around their property when the weather is warm; when it gets cooler, the bats head back to warmer places to hibernate.

A typical bat house made by Paul is three to four inches in length and holds a staggering 150-200 bats. (This may be because a typical little brown bat is the size of a quarter when its wings are folded in. The bats like to live together, which is why a bat house holds so many of the little winged creatures.)

Along with bat houses, Paul makes birdhouses from NH pine. Many of the birdhouses are for New England native birds. To make the houses just right, Paul researches what sort of bird house is right for various species of birds, including the size hole/opening for each house. “All our bird houses are tried out first; we may wait up to a year to see if a particular bat or birdhouse works before we offer it for sale,” Paul adds.

Paul also constructs butterfly houses. He is still in the research stage to learn about butterflies and what sort of construction will work best.

Out of all the houses he constructs, Paul admits he likes to make bat houses best of all. (He also makes turned wooden bowls from NH birch, red and white oak, maple and cherry wood.) With an affinity for the harmless little bats that do so much to help us and require no thanks, Paul is happy to provide homes for the creatures.

If bats have acquired a bad reputation over the years, Paul and Sue are out to change the way we see the winged creatures. Bats are not blood sucking creatures out to harm us. They do a lot of good and they, like all of us, deserve a good home.

To view P& S Country Crafts bat houses and other items, visit www.pandscountrycrafts.com or call Paul and Sue at 744-2265. 

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