As nighttime arrives, Leslie Sturges inspects a colony of bats she has been studying. The bats gather in these wooden boxes high on a pole. One by one, they fly away to hunt for insects. Sturges is concerned that she found only half the number of bats as last year. She hopes some have returned to their winter home.
LESLIE STURGES:"My hope is that a lot of the colony already moved out. But I can't be that optimistic as far as bats are concerned in the Mid-Atlantic."
"And so there's Titan, and this is a younger one..."
Sturges is director of a Washington, DC, area group called Bat World NOVA. "All right, monkey, you can have it..."
She cares for injured and orphaned bats in her home. Then she releases them back to the wild.
Bat populations are falling worldwide, mostly because their territory is being destroyed and because of overuse of pesticide chemicals. Sturges adds that many people are concerned about bats.
LESLIE STURGES: "You hear a lot of people refer to bats as filthy. But they aren't. They groom like cats and dogs do. They use these toes back here to actually comb their fur out."
Sturges also teaches the importance of bats at nature centers and in schools. Her aim is to support efforts for protecting the animals.
LESLIE STURGES: "In North America, their primary role is pest control for plant-eating insects. So we have ... you know, anybody who grows anything is getting an assist from bats."
"This is called the bat detector..."
Many people think bats are blind, but their eyesight is good. At night, bats use their ears to listen for objects. We can hear sounds made by bats with this device.
"That's his echo-location calls coming through."
Sturges and her assistant, Sherry Keen, cared for 30 bats this summer.
"And these are all this year's orphans."
When the bats feel well enough to fly, she moves them to this restricted area so they can develop their flight skills. Today, she plans to release a red bat named Shaggy.
LESILE STURGES: "He came as an older juvenile. And we've just been waiting for him to exhibit really good flight skills."
Sturges wants to make sure Shaggy has a good meal before his release. Later, it is time for him to return to the wild.
LESLIE STURGES: "Bye, Shags. Be good out there..."
But Shaggy does not want to leave. He wants to rest after the meal.
LESLIE STURGES: "So I think what I am going to do is probably put him back in and let him nap for an hour or so and I am going to try and release him again later on tonight. Because he has to go. He can't live here."
Sturges says Shaggy's chances of survival are good. Red bats are common in the Washington area. One last bat nap and then it will be off to the wild. I'm Shirley Griffith.