One evening this summer, Kristen Bocka sat outside her house in southern Stafford County with her 4-year-old son Tucker. Her husband Brian held their infant daughter, Penny Jo, and Bocka counted bats.
Within a 15-minute period, she counted 95.
And she counted them as they exited her own house.
Bat after bat slithered out of the eaves of her home off Deacon Road, some with wrinkled baby bats clinging to their chests. They flew off into the night to eat their weight in mosquitoes, but they would return to Bocka’s house in the morning—it had been their summer home and nursery for about three years.
“That house came alive at nighttime,” said Paul Smith with Advanced Wildlife Removal. “The soffits [underside of the eaves] were moving, the siding was moving.”
When Bocka and her family moved to Stafford from Pittsburgh in May, they weren’t expecting to share their home with a colony of bats. They moved to be nearer to Bocka’s mother and bought the house quickly—Bocka was pregnant and her due date was only a month away.
It had been a rental property, but the home inspector didn’t find any major problems with it.
“[The inspector] looked at the siding and the roof and did all of that,” Bocka said. “When you look at the inspection report, it does’t say anything at all other than that the siding looks to need some repair.”
One place the inspector did not look was the attic.
Baby Penny Jo was born on June 4 and one night during her first week home, as her parents were up in the middle of the night tending to her, they heard scratching and tapping in the walls.
“We looked out the window and we could see these black flashes exiting above the window,” Bocka said. “My husband said, ‘I think we have bats.’ I couldn’t even comprehend him at the time. I could barely even get out of bed, I’d just had a c-section.”
But after a few days of hearing movement in their walls every night, the Bockas decided they couldn’t ignore the problem.
They called an animal control company recommended by their Realtor.
“The guy came out and walked around with us and started to write things down,” Bocka said. “He looked concerned. He started banging on the siding and baby bats started falling to the bottom of siding where it ends and goes to the foundation. You could hear them moving through the siding.”
The technician told her she had the worst infestation of Myotis lucifugus—little brown bats—that he’d seen. The siding had been installed so poorly that there were at least 20 access points—the holes only need to be a half-inch wide—allowing the bats to enter and get into the attic.
And not only did the Bockas have bats, they were housing a bat nursery. The baby bats, born in the spring, were too young to fly and would die if the mothers were removed.
The technician quoted her $16,000 to remove all the siding, seal the holes and clean up the bat guano.
A second company quoted her $14,000 and a third quoted $1,500 just to remove the bats and not seal up or clean anything.
Bocka finally called Advanced Wildlife Removal and spoke to Paul Smith.
“I told him, ‘I have to be honest. This is what I’m being told. What are my options? I can’t live with all these bats,’ “ Bocka said.
Smith inspected the house and told the Bockas they probably had about 1,000 bat roommates.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve seen worse, but not in a residential situation,” Smith said.
He said the housing inspector should have been able to tell there were bats living in the house from staining on the soffits and scratches on the siding.
“I don’t know how it was missed,” he said.
Smith quoted the Bockas $2,500 to seal up all the holes and install two one-way exit doors to let the bats out. He said it was not necessary to remove all the siding.
“I’m not a company to go out there and rip people off,” Smith said. “The best way I can help is the way I’m going to go about it.”
The Bockas waited several weeks until the baby bats were old enough to fly, and then Smith came and sealed up the holes and installed two exits.
It took six days for the bats to figure out how to leave by the new exits.
“It was like a jail cell packed with bats,” Bocka said. “Like a marching band of bats trying to move.”
During that time, the bats were growing hungrier and hungrier and making more and more noise. The Bockas were cautioned that desperate bats might try to fly in through open doors and windows. Bats found their way into the side porch and napped in the blinds.
When they finally left, they attempted to take up residence in Bocka’s neighbors’ house, but Smith sealed up any entrance holes there as well.
Then they moved across the street to an older couple’s home. Bocka said that neighbor counted 100 bats exiting the louvers of his house.
“Apparently, the wife freaked out and locked herself in her bedroom for two straight days,” Bocka said earlier this week. “They had a pest person over there yesterday to take a look.”
Little brown bats are migratory and will soon be flying south to hibernate for the winter. But come spring, female little brown bats often return to the same nursery colony where they were born to raise their own pups.
Bocka said she worries that the bats will try to come home to her house next summer, but Smith said the likelihood of them returning to the Bockas’ house is zero.
“We stand by our work,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t move in down the street.