Kids go batty for new program 

Decorated bird houses and red hummingbird feeders are a common site in many local yards, but by March, children in the area could be putting up housing for a more shadowy crowd.

As part of the Coyote Point Museum’s three-month "Masters of the Night," exhibit on bats, local students will learn about bat myths, the diversity of the only true flying mammal and get a chance to build bat roosts to house the tiny creatures.

The exhibit — a traveling production in the museum until May 6 — gives them a chance to dispel myths about bats being blind, disease-ridden, blood-drinking pests, and show visitors that local varieties like Pallid and Mexican Free-Tailed bats are vitally important to local ecology, acting museum Executive Director Michelle Martin said.

"I think it’s an area that children hear a lot of myths about, so we’re happy for any opportunity to show the true value," Martin said.

The local population of bats, which the Peninsula Humane Society calls the area’s "best pest control," is threatened by habitat loss, a threat the roosts could help prevent.

"If you have bats around your home, you’re fortunate, because they’re out there catching those big night-flying bugs," Humane Society Manager of Wildlife Services Susan Kelly said.

Bats are also threatened because they are treated as a pest to be feared by many people, in part because of their bad reputations.

"I think kids pick up on adult fears, and they all know the connection between bats and vampires," said Burlingame resident Matthew Robinson, who brought his son Paul to see the bat exhibit. "I don’t want kids to be unnecessarily afraid of any animals."

Kelly said the animals are common in the area, but they receive less than a dozen calls a year about bats in homes or found injured. Most of the calls they do get come from Woodside, Hillsborough and the Portola Valley area, although bats are found anywhere near streams where water and bugs are plentiful.

Because of their voracious appetite for insects and chance to spread pollen, bats are listed with ladybugs, hummingbirds and toads on San Mateo County’s RecycleWorks list of creatures that should be welcomed into gardens.

Although there are no bats on display in the exhibit — because the nocturnal creatures would be overwhelmed by daylight activity — the museum does have a bat named Nightwing that they will use for smaller educational programs.

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