September 16, 2019

But Bats Can Fly, Too…

Bat Monitors at the Aviary picked up the call of the Mexican free-tailed bat! This is one of Utah’s migratory bat species. Photo credit: Ann Froschauer on Flickr.


“How’s your climbing skills?”

With a sturdy stick, a microphone, and electrical tape on hand, the self-proclaimed bat lover, Kody Wallace, prodded me to scramble the trellis of the Chase Mill. Next to me, I could hear the chuckle of my colleagues in the Conservation Science Program, ecologists Cooper Farr and Bryant Olsen, as they patiently waited for me to accept the challenge ahead: strap a recording device to a high-up, open—yet subtle—place. Despite the pain of rock climbing the day prior still pounding through every conceivable muscle in my hands and back, Kody’s keenness and endless energy motivated me to ramp up for the task. Fortunately, a quick observation of the taller height of my co-worker, Suryaveer Singh, saved my sore fingers from ascending the wall. At a cool 6-feet, he was deemed capable of raising the microphone a suitable distance from the ground for attaching the stick to the Mill.

What in Darwin’s name were we doing? We were setting up a bat monitor! This is a device that kind of looks like a large radio with a microphone attached to it. The microphone is connected via a long cable, allowing us to strap the microphone, using electrical tape, onto the end of a stick to point it toward the sky and into open air where we expect bats to fly. The recorder itself (the “large radio”) is safely stored inside a weatherproof cargo box. Once it is turned on, the recorder does what it does best: listen for high-pitched sound.


The bat monitor is programmed to record bat calls between 7:45pm in the evening and 7:15am in the morning because this is when bats are feeding.

As non-technical a stick and tape sounds, these are essential tools to take advantage of a powerful advancement in acoustic technology. Bat monitors are sensitive enough to take advantage of the noisy nature of bats by recording their echolocation. This is a special adaptation that allows bats to “see” their surroundings. They will produce a high-pitched sound—either a call or a click—and then listen for the echo. The bat monitor records these calls and allows us to translate them into “echolocation signatures.” This is akin to written language in that we can see the shape of the waveforms produced by their sounds. Each bat species has a unique echolocation signature, just how humans all have a unique tone to their voice. With practice, you can then play a matching game of the echolocation signature to the species of bat!


 The echolocation signature of the Hoary bat, a migratory species that calls Salt Lake City their home in the spring, summer, and fall. Credit: Utah Bat Conservation Cooperative.


“But aren’t you an Aviary?”

A friend asked me this recently as I excitedly rambled on and on about Utah bats, Kody and her infectious passion for researching bats, and how fun it was to tinker with the monitors. My first thought was, “Hey, bats fly, too!” Although, with deeper thought, I realized that they were speaking to a broader question: why should the Aviary care about non-avian species? 

Aside from the commonality of bats being as capable of flight as many birds are, Tracy Aviary as a zoo certified by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) is committed to conservation. This translates into: breeding programs that create assurance populations of threatened bird species, education initiatives that generate deeper understanding and appreciation for all living things, and protection of wild habitats and wildlife. All of these are tied to understanding, appreciating, and protecting not just birds, but the habitats in which they live. Doing this involves also paying attention to the other species—from microscopic invertebrates to large, charismatic animals—that live in these habitats. This is because, whether we know it or not, each species plays a critical role in the health of an ecosystem. For this reason, the Conservation Science Program conducts surveys all across the valley that takes a close look at not just what is going on with Utah’s wild birds, but also the status of mammals of conservation concern, such as the western grey squirrel in the valley and pika in our mountains.


Tracy Aviary’s Conservation Science Program assesses health of local wild places and wildlife by surveying birds, mammals, and plants in select locations across the Wasatch Front.


Getting batty for bats in northern Utah

In northern Utah, we are blessed with an abundance of unique species…of conservationists! There is a plethora of organizations, community groups, and individuals that are all pushing for preservation of healthy air, lands, and water. Among these actors is Kody Wallace, a community scientist with Wild Project Utah. Petite in size, Kody carries a lot of punch for investigating seemingly simple inquiries that require tenacity to navigate the complex truths that they lead to. In just a brief conversation with her, she took me on a fifteen-year long journey of volunteering with conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy in Utah and Wild Utah Project. By lending her skills in bat acoustics and mist netting, Kody has generously volunteered alongside biologists of various specializations to pin down where in northern Utah particular bat species roost, what happened to these roosts, where the bats went to, and how to recruit fellow bat-warriors to her cause.


Did you know that bats eat up to 1,000 insects an hour? Lucky for Utah, we have 18 species of bats to keep insects like mosquitos, midges, and mayflies at bay. Featured here is one Utah’s migratory species: the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Photo credit: Kathleen Smith on Flickr

Kody is impressive in many ways, but I’d like to re-direct the attention here to the phrase “year-round bat research.” Most people believe bats to hibernate over the winter. While this is true of some bat species, others might not hibernate at all. In fact, they do just the opposite. These bats keep it moving all year round by traveling to Utah for the spring through fall and then flying south of us for the winter. Until now, most bat research takes place while these bats are accessible to us, but little to no studies have happened during the transition period into and out of the winter, when these bats are on the move.


Kody Wallace (right) explains the protocol for setting up a bat monitor. Photo credit: Mary Pendergast, Wild Utah Project

As it turns out, the Aviary may be a destination for these flying mammals, especially for the handful of Utah’s bats that migrate south during our winter. The Aviary itself provides trees for bats to roost, while the ponds in the Aviary and on the south end of Liberty Park serve as water sources. These bodies of water also attract the insects bats like to eat. In 2015, we set out monitors that picked up on Brazilian free-tailed bats, a migratory species that is known to travel all the way to South America in the winter. Because of this detection, Tracy Aviary was selected as a pilot site. Bat monitors are up around town in other locations, too, including at the site of one of a fellow AZA-certified institution, Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

With the support of the Wild Utah Project, the bat monitors are currently being tested at the Aviary to find the best locations for recording bat echolocation and to identify an easy-to-do method for downloading data and maintaining the monitors. Eventually, Wild Utah Project would like to open this bat research to Utahns, like you, to get as bat crazy as we are by volunteering to maintain the monitors. We are so excited to see how well the monitors detect bat calls and which species we have living at and passing by the Aviary! Stay tuned with us as we wait for updates.


The Nature Conservancy in Utah is interested in the movement of migratory bats as the move from their roosting habitats here in northern Utah (spring-fall) to their winter habitats deeper south in the US, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Stay tuned with us throughout the study as we discover more!


Learn More

Utah Bat Conservation Cooperative – Learn more about how bats are studied

Wild Utah Project – Learn more about an integral partner in the regional effort to better understand bats.

Bat Conservation International – Bat-ter up for more facts on bat here



Interested in volunteering for conservation?

We are looking for volunteers for Fiesta for Nature, a family-fun extravaganza celebrating nature in all of its forms! Visit the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve while enjoying free tacos and sharing your passion for conservation. This happens to be a place that is very important for bats, too! Click here to register as a volunteer.



- Lucila Fernandez, Conservation Outreach Biologist

Published in Bird Tweets


Tracy Aviary's conservation department has a lot of volunteer-friendly community science programs. These opportunites are unique ways for people of every age to enjoy the outdoors while taking action toward increasing their knowledge of birds and their natural habitat. We have something for people of every commitment level, with hikes and surveys for both families and for those looking for a challenge.  Dont just take our word for it, though. This is what one volunteer had to say about her experience with Tracy Aviary's Alta Bird Monitoring Project.



This spring I volunteered for the Alta Nest Box Monitoring Project.  A training session was held at Tracy Aviary before the season started and volunteers were introduced to the importance of collecting data on nesting birds in Alta and on the history of how the project began. We learned how Tracy Aviary monitors nest boxes and how to take pictures inside owl and song bird nest boxes by using a camera attached to a paint roller extension pole. We were able to practice taking pictures inside the boxes by either placing the camera in the entrance hole of the owl box or by lifting up the top of the songbird box.  We were also taught how to use a GPS to locate the nest boxes at Alta and how data is recorded for each nest box. 

The actual nest box monitoring adventure began in March, on snowshoes and we were always accompanied by Cooper, Bryant or Lucila from the conservation department at the Aviary. I have never worn snowshoes before and it was a lot of fun, but definitely more strenuous than regular walking or hiking.  I fell down every weekend, sometimes on my face but I loved every minute of it. It was so beautiful being out in the wilderness snowshoeing to the nest boxes. I was surprised at how low the boxes were to the ground because the snow pack was so high this year and I was impressed with how knowledgeable Cooper, Bryant and Lucila were in pointing out which species we were hearing and seeing in the area while we were going to each nest box. They always answered any questions we had and I learned something new every week.  Early in the season we only monitored the owl boxes and unfortunately we had no owls nesting this year, but it may take several years for an owl to decide to nest in one of the boxes. 



It was really exciting when the song birds started nesting later in the spring. We were able to learn what the different types of nests looked like depending on the species. I saw mountain chickadees and house wrens up close along with eggs and babies in the nest boxes. It was wonderful to watch the parents actively feeding the babies and to hear them inside the nest box. I really enjoyed watching a house wren chick poke their head out of the nest box waiting for the parent to come back with food.  It was very rewarding to know there was a successful nesting attempt and to see the babies grow up and eventually leave the nest.  It was great when people hiking by stopped us to ask what we were doing and we could tell them about monitoring the nest boxes.  One individual even borrowed binoculars to look at an active nest with a house wren feeding it's babies.  It was great to share the experience with them and to watch their face light up with excitement as they watched the adult feed their young. 

Volunteering for the Alta nest box monitoring project was very gratifying and I looked forward to going every weekend.  I highly recommend this wonderful experience where you can get outside, learn about the birds at Alta, get hands on experience in nest box monitoring and work with the great people from Tracy Aviary.

If you are interested in volunteering with Tracy Aviary's community science programs, please click the link below:


 - Melanie Jones, Tracy Aviary Volunteer



Published in Bird Tweets

Here at the Aviary, conservation plays a vital role. It is the underlying mission in everything we do. Each department contributes to our conservation and education efforts. Our events and fundraisers are dedicated not only to our birds, but also our environment and education programs that teach how we can take better care of the world we live in while inspiring others to do the same. 

Next week, Tracy Aviary is proud to be participating in Latino Conservation Week (LCW).  We have partnered up with Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Summit Land Conservancy, Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families and Jordan River Commission to bring a week full of great nature and conservation themed activities for the whole family. This national nine day celebration goes from July 13th through the 21st and is all about providing an opportunity for all members of the community, including Latinos, to come together to demonstrate their passion for the outdoors and it’s preservation. 


How to Enjoy Latino Conservation Week:



The week will begin with an invitation to “Relax at the River”. This free Tracy Aviary program is getting a special LCW twist and begins on Monday, July 15th from 6:00pm to 8:30pm at Inlet Park in Saratoga Springs. Complete with snacks, games, and activities that allow you to get to know the River better. You will get a chance to hear from Latino community leaders, share your connection to the River, and play some Loteria for fun prizes. Enjoy family night with Tracy Aviary, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Jordan River Commission while learning important steps in creating a better future for you and your loved ones.



Find Utah Chapter Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance at "Partners in the Park" from 6:00pm to 8:00pm at Riverside Park. Their booth will be honoring Latino Conservation Week, and there will be lots of fun activities to choose from!



Conservation Night at the Aviary! Enjoy a night at the Aviary after closing from 5:00pm-7:00pm. Tracy Aviary members and LCW participants can experience a free “Conservation in Your Own Backyard” series of activities, games and take-home crafts designed to highlight ways that everyone can learn about and help out their local birds. 



Start the day the right way with Summit Bioblitz! Come enjoy the beautiful outdoors in Summit County as your learn about birds, the outdoors and conservation in celebration of Latino Conservation Week! You will get the chance to hike in beautiful Park City with Tracy Aviary, Chapter Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Summit Land Conservancy while you learn and participate in plant identification, bird identification, etc. Lunch/snacks will be provided. 8:00am to 12:00pm.


IMG 20190612 094931216 HDR resizedSaturday:

End LCW strong with a Jordan River Cleanup party! Join Hartland Community 4 Youth, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Jordan River Commission for a service outing on the Jordan River in honor of Latino Conservation Week. From 10:00am to 2:00pm along with your local community, you can take part in coming together to enjoy and protect this important River.


Latino Conservation Week is a great expression of the importance of community, conservation and the natural world around us. It is through community and personal action that our efforts to build a better future for our planet's progress. No matter how you choose to enjoy LCW,  we invite you to make personal goals toward sustainability. This week is a great opportunity to get outside and participate in activities and events that both celebrate and educate the importance of our local environments and wildlife.  


-Mackenzy Johnson, Public Relations Coordinator

Published in Bird Tweets


47995959398_398654cc54_o.jpgReady to Hatch, Tracy Aviary's garden party for a cause was last weekend, and it did not disappoint! Through the efforts and donations of everyone that attended, we were able to raise around $105,000 to support our conservation department. Events like this help fund many of our conservation science and community science projects, which do vital work in helping the wildlife and nature in our very own backyards. Along with the amazing food, drink, bird visitors, and music, the guests were able to enjoy our beautiful gardens and great company. We are grateful to everyone who came out to support this beautiful and important evening.




47995935022_a7454bc259_o.jpgEvents like Ready to Hatch are the reason Tracy Aviary can do such great work in their feild!  With citizen/community science programs like the Breeding bird surveys, Alta bird monitoring project and Project broadtail, people of all commitment levels can help make a direct contribution to the work and research of the Tracy Aviary conservation department. While helping the Aviary in their efforts, these projects allow citizen scientists to relax and have fun as they learn all about the birds and nature of Utah. They include family friendly walks, hikes, and surveys for bird nerds of all ages and abilities. These projects extend far beyond our work at the Aviary to help native birds and their natural habitats all across the state, the country and more. Not to mention, they are a great way for people to get outside and enjoy nature while increasing their scientific understanding. 



FOA_Nuthatch.jpgCitizen Science Breeding Bird Suveys: 

In partnership with Salt Lake Public Utilities and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Tracy Aviary has been conducting annual breeding bird surveys in City Creek Canyon, UT, since 2011. These surveys are conducted by people of the community along-side our conservation department to better identify and understand the native birds of Utah. While doing these Surveys, community scientiests get a chance to enjoy the great outdoors while looking for, listening for, and writing down information about the birds they find. The goal of this project is to generate science-based knowledge that helps provide the nessary tools for managers of the canyon. Over time, we hope to better understand how the amount of birds relates to the quality of the habitat they live in, and how we can use this information to support bird and habitat conservation. 


PJ_50A6252.jpgAlta Bird Monitering Survey:

This survey is for the adventurous! Tracy Aviary citizen scientists join up with our expert birders in search of the feathered friends that call Alta home. Studying the birds in that unique, high elevation habitat allows us to better understand the species that live there. Our bird list and counts are continually growing, and so is our excitement! Surveys are done in summer on breeding birds and in winter, on skis or snow shoes, for non-breeding bird species.



PBT2.jpgProject Broadtail:

Project Broadtail is a family friendly community science project that helps us better understand how to protect the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, which is a bird of conservation concern in the state of Utah. Participants have the choice to go on a easy hike or walk with our conservation team to search for and document the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds that they see around their home and in surrounding recreational areas. These surveys provide important information about Broadtail distribution patterns, habitat, and migration. They are fun, healthy, and important for the survival of a beautiful and important pollinator like the hummingbird. 


38453424592_c89b0e757f_o.jpgTracy Aviary's conservation and community science projects not only help our native natural lands, but helps in the public participation and collaboration of important research to better understand the world around us. If you are interested in getting involved with our community science program, or want to learn more about these or other Aviary projects, please visit our conservation site:


- Mackenzy Johnson, Public Relations Coordinator 

Published in Bird Tweets