All year-long, my husband and I wait for the day it’s warm enough to leave our doors and windows open and enjoy the summer sunshine. Without screens, however, our house quickly becomes mosquito-infested. Rather than spraying ourselves down in toxic bug spray or lighting noxious insect-repellant candles, we opt for a more natural method around our home: bats and birds.
Insect repellants have a place in areas that are particularly bug-infested or in locations where a bite can have serious consequences, in the case of malaria, West Nile virus, or other mosquito-transmitted diseases. But at home, we prefer not to douse ourselves in insect repellants—even natural ones—because there are times that we don’t want to smell eucalyptus or citronella. Instead, we focus on encouraging natural insect predators, like our flying friends, to do the work for us.
Bats are often thought of solely in the context of Dracula. Many people still hold the belief that these winged creatures will suck your blood with sharp, pointed teeth. North America, however, isn’t home to vampire bats. Instead, the United States has four families of bats, with the largest family, Vespertilionidae, having dozens of species. Little brown bats are commonly found throughout the northern United States, while other species may appear with more frequency in the south.
Despite fears of bats becoming tangled in hair or ending up inside the house, bats rarely interact with humans due to their nocturnal nature. When we go to sleep, bats come out to feed—on insects. Mosquitoes are perhaps the best-known bat food, but beetles, moths, scorpions, centipedes, and flies are also fair game.
Here’s one fact to change your opinion about bats: a little brown bat, one of the smaller bat species in the United States, eats 4 to 8 grams of insects each night.
It might now be clear that bats can help control insect populations, so it would make sense that luring them to your backyard could help with bugs. Doing so is fairly simple: purchase a wooden bat box or build your own. A 2’5’’ by 1’5’’ bat box can house 40-50 bats comfortably.
Most birds eat seeds and nuts during the year, but many birds are fond of insects, too—especially when feeding their young. Nuthatches and chickadees commonly eat ants, while orioles and grosbeaks will eat beetles. Even warblers and titmice will eat pesky aphids.
Attracting birds to your backyard requires food, water, and shelter. A hanging feeder filled with sunflower seeds, a bird bath, and native plants or wood piles in the yard are easy ways to attract a variety of species.
Encouraging bats and birds to your backyard is a long-term approach to insect control, but there are times when a quicker solution is needed. In these cases, ditch the bug spray and opt for one of these:
Neem can be applied directly onto the skin by mixing it with coconut oil or a moisturizer. Some people may wish to add an essential oil to mask the strong scent. Double-up the repellent power by adding tea tree or lavender.
Store-bought citronella candles can smell offensively strong. Luckily, making your own doesn’t require much work and scent can be adjusted to your preference. Melt beeswax with essential oils like lemon, eucalyptus, or cedar to create your own insect-repelling candle.
Remove Standing Water
Standing water is the best mosquito breeding ground, so doing a thorough check of your yard or decks is important.