Between the whirring of drills and pounding of hammers in Mark Vanyush’s woodshop class, Barry Genzlinger quizzed the students about his favorite creatures.

“How big is the biggest bat we have? How much does it weigh?” he said.

“Fourteen pounds,” one student ventured.

“No,” Genzlinger said with a smile. “One ounce is the biggest bat we have in Vermont.”

Genzlinger is a licensed bat rehabilitator and founded the nonprofit Vermont Bat Center with his wife, Maureen. The couple rescue endangered little brown bats from all corners of Vermont, nursing them back to health in their Milton home’s basement.

Genzlinger holds a little brown bat he took care of in his basement in 2015.

He got his start building bat houses for the vulnerable creatures whose populations have been decimated by white nose syndrome. And last month, he passed his knowledge down to the next generation.

About six Milton High School students got to work building eight bat houses designed to harbor up to 300 little brown bats, each only weighing a third of an ounce – or as much as a dime and a nickel.

The workshop was a means of accomplishing Genzlinger’s mission to build 50 bat houses this year, per the Vermont Department for Fish & Wildlife. The state agency will keep them stockpiled and deploy them as needed, wherever they find a colony of little browns in need of a home.

Genzlinger sought the students’ help via Vanyush, his woodworking pal and the MHS design technology teacher for the last decade. He supported the idea and found it easy to work into his class curriculum.

“It’s very hands-on, and it also teaches them a different way of thinking: We throw everything away now,” Vanyush said. “In this case, they actually build something, and they have to problem-solve along the way.”

And there was some of that, despite Genzlinger printing out detailed instructions and delivering the pre-fabricated house parts.

Students had to use ¾-inch spacers between each partition to create just the right amount of wiggle room for the bats. And they had to remember to keep the rough side of the lumber inside so the bats could hang from the walls and ceiling.

“They don’t care if it’s got extra screw holes,” Genzlinger said. “Warm, dry … that’s it.”

Genzlinger said materials only cost $15 per house, particularly because he shopped local at Milton’s Cyr Lumber. The houses can be built with milled lumber, but he advises scratching it up with a screwdriver beforehand.

Milton High School students Carson Bianchi and Josh Adams construct a bat house during a design technology class on May 16. The houses were commissioned by the Vt. Department of Fish & Wildlife to create habitats for Vermont’s endangered little brown bats. (Courtney Lamdin | Milton Independent)

As the students worked, Genzlinger pop-quizzed them with instructions and more bat facts.

“What’s wrong with this piece here?”

“Is that the smooth side?”

“How many of Vermont species are either threatened or endangered?”

(The answer to that last one is five of nine.)

These bat houses are a new prototype, modeled after ones in use at Kingsland Bay State Park in Ferrisburgh. Of the four installed there now, the bats only use two that are fashioned like Genzlinger’s design, he said.

“This is a perfect style nursery house,” he said. “The attic space will be the perfect space for pups to be born. It gives an ideal spacing, perfect location, easy to move in and out.”

The workshop was Genzlinger’s second with Milton students, having completed two bat houses with a group of six students with special needs earlier in late April. He and Vanyush hope this can become an annual project, especially since they only take one or two class periods to complete.

From there, Genzlinger took them back to his garage, where he’ll add a coat of paint and stain them before handing them over to the state, he said.

“We just want to get them built, and this is the perfect place to build them,” Genzlinger said.

Most of the students there didn’t know about Vermont’s endangered bats until Genzlinger’s presentation, and Vanyush thinks the project was both educational and service-minded.

“There’s a purpose to this that they don’t often see,” he said. “This is, ‘Let’s do something for a better cause,’ and I like that. Kids really like doing that kind of thing.”

About little brown bats

  • Little brown bats, and Vermont’s eight other bat species, are critical components in a healthy ecosystem, foraging on insects that include both forest and agricultural pests.
  • Little and big brown bats are frequently found in buildings and sometimes in tree hollows or under peeling bark.
  • At birth, each young weighs less than an ounce.
  • Bats can consume up to half their weight in insects each night during the summer.

Source: Vt. Fish & Wildlife