The Grey-headed flying-fox is a nomadic mammal found only on the east coast of Australia, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria. They move throughout their range in response to fluctuations in food availability.
The species is easily recognisable by its rusty reddish-coloured collar and grey head.
Grey-headed flying-foxes are important pollinators and seed dispersers for many native trees, including commercially important hardwood and rainforest species. They contribute directly to the sustainability and ecological processes of rainforests, woodlands and wetlands by providing habitat for other flora and fauna species and adding value to the hardwood timber, honey and native flower industries. This role has become increasingly important due the highly fragmented nature of vegetation along the east coast of Australia.
Flying-foxes are intelligent, social animals that live in large colonies comprised of individuals and family groups. They roost in trees during the day and establish permanent and semi-permanent camps near food sources. Safety in numbers is vital for breeding and raising young. These camps also act as stopover sites for migrating flying-foxes, so they are an important component of a larger network of camps.
Flying-foxes use sound to communicate with each other. Camps are usually the noisiest at dawn and dusk as the flying-foxes arrive and depart. They are generally quieter at night and during the day. Roaming dogs, machinery, birds and people can also disturb camps, causing movement and noise from the flying-foxes.
Threats to the Grey-headed Flying-fox
There is evidence the Grey-headed flying-fox population declined by up to 30% between 1989 and 2000. There is a wide range of ongoing threats to the species survival, including habitat loss and degradation, deliberate destruction associated with the commercial horticulture industry, conflict with humans, infrastructure-related mortality (e.g.. entanglement in barbed wire fencing and fruit netting, power line electrocution, etc..) and competition and hybridisation with the Black flying-fox. For these reasons, it is listed as vulnerable to extinction under NSW and Federal legislation.
Vegetation clearance has resulted in the loss of habitat historically used by flying-foxes for roosting and foraging purposes. As a result, they are increasingly establishing camps in suburban areas, possibly due to higher food availability in proximity to these areas. They forage opportunistically, at distances of around 30 kilometres from camps and occasionally up to 60-70 kilometres when food resources are limited.
What is that smell?
Flying-fox camps are often associated with odours. This is mainly due to the scent male flying-foxes use to mark their territory, identify camp trees, each other, and also to attract mates. Young flying-foxes also emit a scent which enables their mothers to locate them within the camp. Flying foxes are very clean animals that are constantly grooming and cleaning themselves and the smell of these camps poses no risk to human health.
Council has received a grant through the NSW Flying-fox Grant Program to assist in developing a Management Plan for the Bingara Reserve Grey-headed flying-fox Camp at Macquarie Fields, a camp that is recognised as a nationally important Flying-fox camp by the Federal Government.
The Bingara Reserve camp is solely occupied by the Grey-headed Flying-fox, which is listed as a threatened species under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the Federal Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
With assistance from environmental consultancy Ecosure, Council will develop a Management Plan in conjunction with the local community. Due to their conservation status, management activities for flying-foxes and their habitat must be approved by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and may require consultation with the Federal Government. To assist with this process, the plan will be prepared in accordance with the Office of Environment and Heritage’s Flying-fox Camp Management Policy 2015.
The Flying-fox Grant Program is a $1 million program funded through the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and administered by Local Government NSW in order to assist NSW councils in managing their local flying-fox camps.
The Bingara Reserve Grey-headed Flying-fox Camp is located along a narrow strip of riparian vegetation in very close proximity to adjoining residential properties along Redfern Creek in Macquarie Fields.
This camp, like other camps along the east coast of Australia, provides a relatively safe place for this threatened species to breed and raise its young. It also acts as an important stop over site for flying-foxes migrating through their range.
Little is known about the factors that influence flying-fox camp selection, however, conditions that may have attracted flying-foxes to this site include access to abundant and reliable food and water resources, the presence of a suitable microclimate and protection from land-based predators.
Based on population counts undertaken by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, ecological consultants and other stakeholders monitoring the camp from August 2010 to May 2017, the average number of flying-foxes recorded within the camp is 3,875 individuals, with the number of flying-foxes using the camp at any given time varying in response to changes in food availability.
To date, Council has received a range of feedback about the camp in relation to a number of issues including noise, odour, droppings, potential water quality impacts, impacts on the recreational use of the reserve and the possible transmission of diseases commonly associated with flying-foxes such as Hendra Virus and Lyssavirus.
In order to minimise impacts on residents in the vicinity of the camp, Council has adopted a proactive approach to the management of the flying-fox camp and is in the process of developing a management plan for the Bingara Reserve Grey-headed Flying-fox Camp.
Flying-foxes and your health
Flying-foxes are timid animals and will not approach people intentionally. They are known to be hosts of two viruses which can pose a serious risk to human health — the Australian Bat Lyssavirus and the Hendra Virus. NSW Heath advises that human infections with these viruses are very rare, and when there is no handling or direct contact with flying foxes, there is negligible public health risk.
For frequently asked questions relating to human health and flying-foxes, visit NSW Health.
To ensure your personal heath and safety:
- do not attempt to touch or handle live or dead flying-foxes
- only trained, vaccinated flying-fox handlers should attempt to catch injured or sick bats. If you encounter a sick, injured or dead flying-fox, contact the experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737 or Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife on 9413 4300
- If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, the wound should immediately be washed gently but thoroughly with soap and water, an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible to assess the need for further treatment. A vaccine and immunoglobulin can prevent infection if given soon after the bite or scratch.
Flying-foxes and your pets
NSW Heath advises that pets should be kept away from flying-foxes if possible to reduce likelihood of scratches or bites. If a pet becomes sick after contact with a flying-fox, seek advice from a veterinarian.
For all relevant information relating to the health of your pets and flying foxes visit: