Website Main content
Website Secondary navigation Animals, the bush, and the coast

About grey-headed flying-foxes

Flying-foxes are nomadic mammals that travel up and down the east coast of Australia, primarily along the eastern coastal plain from Bundaberg in Queensland, through New South Wales and south to eastern Victoria.

Flying-foxes are critical in ensuring ecosystem health and the long-term survival of our Eucalypt forests. They forage on the fruit of native forests and vines, as well as the nectar and pollen of native trees, particularly Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Banksia species. As a consequence, flying-foxes spread seed and pollen over long distances improving the health and diversity of native forests.

The grey-headed flying-fox (pteropus poliocephalus) can be recognised by its rusty red coloured collar, grey head and hairy legs.

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 and for birthing.

Flying-foxes use various calls as a form of communication, tending to make the most noise at dawn and dusk, when flying out to feed at night or returning to camp trees to sleep during the day. Noise increases dramatically when animals are disturbed. During the day, flying-foxes are generally quiet as they are nocturnal animals.

Flying-foxes are very clean animals that are constantly grooming and cleaning themselves. However, they also communicate by scent. Odours are used to identify camp trees, each other, and also to attract mates. Mothers are able to locate their pups in crèche trees by their scent and calls.

Threats to flying-foxes

The grey-headed flying-fox is listed as 'vulnerable to extinction' under NSW and Australian legislation because of declining numbers.

The main threat to grey-headed flying-foxes is habitat loss, and this is a key cause of their conflict with humans. Clearing and modifying native vegetation removes appropriate camp habitat and limits the availability of natural food sources, particularly winter feeding habitat. In NSW, less than 15 per cent of potentially suitable forest for the grey-headed flying-fox occurs in conservation resources and only five per cent of roost sites are similarly reserved.

Grey-headed flying-foxes are increasingly setting up camp near towns and people in search of food and shelter because of loss of their natural habitat and in response to local food availability. They forage opportunistically, often at distances up to 30km from camps and occasionally up to 60-70 km per night in response to patchy food resources.

Grey-headed flying-foxes are very vulnerable to heat stress. Heat stress affects flying-foxes when temperatures reach 42°C or more. When ambient temperatures rise above 35°C, flying-foxes tend to alter their behaviour to reduce exposure to heat. This may include clustering or clumping, panting, licking wrists and wing membranes, and descending to lower levels of vegetation or to the ground. Over the past two decades, tens of thousands of flying-foxes have died during extreme heat events.

Grey-headed flying-foxes may once have numbered in the millions, but now their population is estimated to have declined by at least a third.

More information

We can help you

If you would like to find out more about flying-foxes, contact: