How to identify British bats in flight

Bats can be hard to identify, but you can tell the most common species apart by their behaviour, size, flight pattern, wing shape and habitat.

How to identify flying bats article spread



  • A medium-sized, fairly common bat found throughout Britain.
  • Fast, agile flight, about 1-6 metres above the ground.
  • Found in dense woodland and (rarely) over water, where its sharper turns distinguish it from Daubenton’s (below).
  • About 75 per cent of all sightings are pipistrelles.
  • Three species (common, soprano, Nathusius’) are found throughout Britain, but the species are only distinguishable by their echolocation calls.
  • Small bats with fast flight, about 5-10 metres above the ground.
  • Found along treelines, close to larger hedgerows and on the edges of water.
  • A large, common bat found in southern England and Wales.
  • Flies slowly, 5-10 metres above the ground, often in loops, close to vegetation.
  • Found on woodland edges, close to larger hedgerows and in pastures.
  • A small, common bat found throughout Britain.
  • Fast, straight flight, usually less than 25cm above the water while making long turns.
  • Found over any calm water – rivers, lakes or ponds.
Lesser horseshoe
  • A rare, small bat found in south-west England and southern Wales.
  • Faster flight than the greater horseshoe (below) and gives the impression of whirring wings.
  • Feeds close to the ground in pastures, woodland edges and woodland.
  • A fairly common, large bat found as far north as southern Scotland.
  • Very fast, straight flight, more than 10 metres above the ground, but dives steeply when pursuing prey, its wings nearly touching beneath its body.
  • Found above woodlands and pastures.
Brown long-eared
  • Medium-sized bat found throughout Britain.
  • Slow, fluttering flight; agile, often seen hovering to pick insects off trees or the ground.
  • Found in open woodland, parks and gardens.
Greater horseshoe
  • Large bat found in south-west England and southern Wales.
  • Low, fluttering, almost butterfly-like flight; often glides close to ground.
  • Mostly found in mature pastures, parkland and close to hedges and woodland edges.
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