BatNight 2012

Bat Night 2012 from Laura Bazurto-Mathews on Vimeo.

Bat Night 2012 was moved to the spring to mark the return of the bats. Welcome Back the Bats took place on Saturday, May 19th. Five thousand people gathered in the Rillito riverbed where the Barbea Williams Dance Company performed with the fourth and fifth grade students from Rio Vista Elementary School. In the months preceding the event, the students learned about bats from bat expert Yar Petryszyn, rehearsed choreography with Barbea, and more than one hundred costumes were created. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild welcomed the crowd – and the bats – before the music began and the dancers took to the stage. Barbea led the audience in a “Bat Dance” and everyone danced along. Magic!

Bat Night

Bat Night is a yearly environmental performance art event produced by The Rillito River Project and held in Tucson Arizona under the Campbell Avenue bridge. This bridge spans the Rillito River, which once had water flowing in it most of the year. Human settlement over the last century has left the river dry, endangering many of the species that relied on the river for their water and habitat.


If you would like to help Rillito River Project create artwork to increase awareness to the serious issue of vanishing rivers of the Southwest, we welcome your participation by way of a donation. We thank you for your generousity.

The Rillito River Project is funded entirely by private donations which are tax deductible and may be made through Paypal:

Bat Night on Arizona Public Media/NPR

BatNight 2010

Bat Night 2010 from Ellen Skotheim and Daniel Cauthorn on Vimeo.

Why is the event called Bat Night? The Campbell avenue bridge features a dramatic, nightly flight of bats that live in the expansion joints of the structure. Using the spectacle of thousands of bats taking flight, The Rillito River Project has created Bat Night, drawing thousands of people into a dry river bed to not only enjoy the flight of the bats but to view dance and musical performances that entertain and speakers that educate on the environmental issues facing the Southwest. When watching the videos, you may find that no two Bat Nights are alike.

BatNight 2009

Yar Petryszyn in Bat Night 2009 from Daniel Cauthorn on Vimeo.

Dr. Yar Petryszyn is an ecologist and evolutionary biologistat the University of Arizona. Check out Yar speaking to a crowd right before bats burst from the Campbell Avenue bridge in Tucson, Az.


Ellen Skotheim on Bat Night 2009 from Daniel Cauthorn on Vimeo.

BatNight 2008

This was the first Bat Night. Rillito River Project artists composed bat rhymes for distinctive pink road signs and placed them along Campbell Avenue approaching the Rillito River bed. The Burma Shave inspired campaign featured these creative announcements for Bat Night:

Eating Bugs
You might say Ugh
But a thousand bats
Just call ‘em snacks

Visitors from out of town
Hanging huddled upside down

The results were impressive. More than 2,000 people gathered near sunset in the Rillito riverbed east of Campbell Avenue Bridge to witness 45,000 Mexican free-tail bats fly out from their home in the crevices underneath the bridge to forage for food – particularly the delectable mosquito.
An hour prior to this natural phenomenon, Rillito River Project Creative Director, Ellen Skotheim opened the event with The Bat, a poem by Theodore Roethke, and then invited everyone to raise their water-filled glasses to join her in a toast to the soul of the river.

Bat expert Yar Petryszyn presented a lecture on bats and answered several questions from the crowd. Yar contrasted the dark and mysterious portrayal of bats in folklore and mythology with the facts, including their important role in plant pollination along with a voracious appetite for insects.
Critically acclaimed musicians, percussionist Pete Swan and guitarist Matt Mitchell played inspired sonic accompaniment as the bats began to emerge against the setting sun. Children excitedly ran under the bridge, following the bats as they fluttered into the darkening western sky. A full moon was rising over the eastern horizon helping people find their way back to the ramps leading to the Rillito River Walk.

The Rillito River Project was happy to welcome so many people – including lots of families – to the riverbed to enjoy the moderate temperature and be part of a natural art happening.

Rillito Bat Limerick

There once were some bats from Rillito
Who thought dropping guano was neat-o
They flew high in the sky
Eating bugs on the fly
You can thank them for fewer mosquitoes

» Read the Tucson Weekly interview with Ellen Skotheim

Friday, December 4, 2020