Buchanan builds bat houses for Eagle Scout project

SUBMITTED PHOTO Ricky Buchanan’s ‘bat houses’ can be seen on Magelssen Bluff in Rushford. The houses are Buchanan’s project to earn his Eagle Scout Badge, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America Program.
Chad Smith

For some people, seeing just one bat is good enough for a case of the willies, but that’s clearly not true for Rushford’s Ricky Buchanan. The R-P high school senior hopes to increase area bat numbers by building “bat houses.” Designed to give area bat populations extra shelter from predators, the boxes not only provide habitat for bats—which are declining in southeast Minnesota—they’re also part of Buchanan’s work to attain his Eagle Scout Badge, the highest rank possible in the Boy Scouts of America Program.

“I’m building 10 bat houses that will be put up around the area,” Buchanan said. “It’s a single-chamber wooden house that is designed to give bats shelter from predators in places they otherwise might not find shelter. Some will go up in parks around the area. Some people put the houses up on barns and even on their houses.”

Buchanan describes the bat houses like a “skinny square box.” There’s an opening on the bottom of each house and a three-quarter inch gap for bats to climb up into. The “landing area” for the bats extends down from the bottom of the structure. The grooves in the landing area are what help the bats climb up into the box. Buchanan said that smaller space is what really provides a lot of protection from predators. The structure itself is two feet long by two feet wide, but the inside is the narrow part.

“My research showed me that bats seem to prefer the lack of extra space,” Buchanan said. “They feel like they get more protection that way. I did quite a bit of research on bat conservation websites to come to that conclusion. I also had to do some research on the ideal design to make because I had a handful of younger scouts that were helping with the project. I wanted it to be as simple as possible.”

The bat houses weren’t Buchanan’s first choice for his Eagle Scout Project. He initially went to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the idea. to build a shelter along the bike trails by MiEnergy Cooperative. Buchanan thought it would be nice to have a shelter to allow people to get out of the weather and take a rest.

“They [DNR] were the ones who recommended the idea of bat houses instead of the shelter,” he said. “The DNR told me they needed more houses built to help give bats some extra habitat. So, I looked up the idea and thought it would be the right way to go. The DNR said no one had built new houses in quite a while.

“One of the biggest reasons we need to protect the bat populations is they eat a lot of bugs, specifically mosquitoes,” Buchanan said, “They eat a whole lot of those. However, bat populations are decreasing, and the females don’t typically give birth to a large number of offspring every year. That makes it hard to keep the population’s numbers up when they’re hit hard by predators.”

Buchanan said he and his helpers built ten bat houses and gave some to the City of Rushford Public Works Department. One box has been installed in the city park on Magelssen Bluff, and others will be put up around the area, with a few possibly going to the DNR as well.

“I had a group of kids in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades helping me on the project,” Buchanan said. “They were really good workers and helped me out a lot.”

It’s not an easy road to get to the rank of Eagle Scout. There are a lot of requirements, one of which is compiling 21 different merit badges during your time in the scouts. Some are required badges and others are elective choices by each scout. “You also need a couple of letters of recommendation from different people, such as bosses and teachers who know you well,” Buchanan said. “You also have to fill leadership positions in your specific scout troop. Each scout also has to write out a letter detailing their life goals. Of course, the project is the biggest requirement. They definitely make you earn the rank of Eagle Scout.”