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November 2019

Are there horseshoe bats at Brussels Airport?

  • biodiversity
Image of hoefijzerneus

You wouldn’t normally associate them with an airport, but from dusk to dawn, a lot of bats are active in the neighbourhood of Brussels Airport. What attracts those bats to the airport? Insects! And they find them in great numbers near the large water reservoirs on cargo and near the open canal on the golf course a little farther away.

In the summer of 2018, Natuurpunt made a first inventory in the area using bat detectors in strategic locations. This showed that the grounds of The Brabantse Golf, the open canal and the water reservoirs were a great feeding area for at least four species of bats.

Image of region bats

That the Common pipistrelle was encountered most is hardly surprising. This small microbat is one of the most common bat species in our country. During the day they hide in houses, but once dusk falls, they fly around wherever there is some growth in search of insects.

You also find the common pipistrelle near water, and particularly near the reservoirs. Other species of bat are also active there.

Just after dusk, and just before sunrise, the reservoir becomes the hunting ground for around an hour of the common noctule who fly around at great heights searching for larger insects.

In the dark hours of the night, the common noctule leaves the stage to the Nathusius’ pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bat. Nathusius’ pipistrelle are specialised in small insects such as gnats, which they like to search for on dimly lit banks of fresh water, surrounded by vegetation. Daubenton’s bat, on the other hand, skims just over the water and gulps down the low-flying insects.

During the inventory, sounds were also picked up of non-identified bat species. Possibly these were the sounds of the common horseshoe bats. This bat is, with a length of 3.5 to 4.5 centimetres, one of the smallest bat species in Europe. When it was spotted in June 2019 in the Floordam Wood that borders The Brabantse Golf, it was big news! It was, in fact, nearly 45 years ago that the Small Horseshoe Bat was spotted in Flanders.

Bats are not, by the way, active the whole year round. In the winter, they find little or no food, and then the bats hibernate - waiting for the warm spring and the arrival of fresh insects.

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