Flight performance, echolocation and foraging behaviour in noctule bats Nyctalus noctula



The noctule Nyctulus noctula (Schreber, 1774) is a relatively large (c. 25 g) insectivorous bat which catches insects on the wing (by aerial hawking). Emergence at a maternity roost was earliest relative to sunset when females were lactating, and bats may then have risked predation by flying at higher light levels during a period of high energy demand. Flight performance was quantified by using stereophotogrammetry. At feeding sites bats flew at 6.0 ± 2.1 m/s. This was faster than predicted minimum power speed (V mp), and either between V mp and maximum range speed (V mr), or close to their predicted V mr, depending on which aerodynamic model of flight power requirements was used. The echolocation behaviour of noctules is flexible. Long duration, low frequency calls (c. 20 kHz) with little frequency modulation were emitted while cruising, but at foraging sites the calls became more frequency-modulated. As the noctule is traditionally thought of as using low frequency echolocation, it was expected to receive weak echoes from small targets and therefore to specialize in eating large insect prey. Although the bats ate mainly beetles, large numbers of small dipterans were also eaten. The noctule is probably able to detect such small items because, when foraging, its calls become broadband and sweep from high frequencies. Higher harmonics are also present, and these may assist in the detection of small prey. In noctules, as in many bats, there appears to be a 1:1 link between wingbeat and call production during the search phase of foraging.