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.
- are intelligent, social animals that live in large colonies comprised of individuals and family groups
- roost in trees during the day and establish permanent and semi-permanent camps near food sources and for birthing
- use various calls as a form of communication
- tend 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 also increases dramatically when flying foxes are disturbed
- are nocturnal animals, so they are generally quiet during the day
- are very clean animals that are constantly grooming and cleaning themselves, but they also communicate by scent
- use odours 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 been numbered in the millions, but now their population is estimated to have declined by at least one-third.
You can watch this short film to learn about grey-headed flying-foxes in Eurobodalla, their behaviour, babies, and food foraging activities.
Flying-fox management for the future
Flying-fox researchers, councils and land managers across Australia continue to learn and share information about flying-foxes and their environment. Some projects Eurobodalla Council has contributed to include:
- Who: Eurobodalla Shire Council, the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), and Ecosure.
- Aim: If successful, the odour coming from the flying-fox camps and affecting nearby residents, will be able to be greatly reduced.
- Current status: A trial has been completed at Sunshine Coast QLD. The trial showed the odour-neutralising mist did not affect the bats adversely. Due to environmental conditions, it was less clear if it gave some odour relief to residents.
The same trial has ethics permission to be run at the camps at Batemans Bay to see if it is feasible as a tool for residents to combat smell from camps.
- Who: With support from the NSW, Queensland and Australian governments, who have supported since 2012.
- Aim: Determine whether the grey-headed flying-fox should still be considered threatened. This entails counting flying-fox populations in all known camps four times a year.
- Current status: Council continues to monitor all Eurobodalla camps regularly and communicate findings to the public and the Department of Planning and Environment.
- Find out more: on the Department of Planning and Environment's website.
- Aim: Contribute to research to help improve understanding of flying-foxes in urban locations.
- Research papers:
- The Department of Planning and Environment: Subsidies for products and services to assist communities living with flying-foxes.
- Australian Zoologist journal: NSW Batemans Bay camp management case study.
- Flying-foxes in Eurobodalla
- Flying-foxes FAQ
- Report a new flying-fox roost site
- Flying-fox plans, legislation and approvals.
We can help you
To find out more about flying-foxes, contact:
- T: 02 4474 1000
- E: Council
- Lorraine Oliver, Department of Planning and Environment:
- T: 02 6229 7120