The Grey-headed Flying-fox is Australia’s largest bat. They occupy forest and woodland on the east coast of Australia.
Flying-fox camps are increasingly setting up near towns and people because of the loss of their
natural habitat and in response to local food availability. These camps can be challenging for the people that live near them.
Flying foxes are an important part of our ecosystem and are a protected species across Australia.
NSW – Vulnerable
Commonwealth – Vulnerable
It is an offence under State and Federal law to harm or disturb flying-foxes or their habitat without approval.
Dispersing of this species can be challenging based on experiences in regard to other camps. This has identified that relocation of a GHFF camp from one site to another alternative site has limited success with significant expense. If GHFF camps are intentionally dispersed from one location and community, they often end up in another community and in most cases across Australia they return to the original site within a year or two.
Download information about Living Near Flying-foxes
Flying Foxes During Hot Weather
Grey-headed Flying-foxes are extremely susceptible to heat stress which can cause death when temperatures exceed 42°C, especially when subjected to consecutive extreme heat days. Visit our Handling and Disposing of Dead Flying-foxes page to find out how to correctly handle dead flying foxes.
Frequently asked questions about Flying-foxes.
It is recommended to drink from town water supplies as much as possible and leave the tank water for the garden and flushing toilets etc. It also should be noted that is the responsibility of the owner to ensure rainwater collected is treated to a healthy standard prior to consumption.
Faecal contamination in rainwater tanks from wildlife is a known risk not just associated with flying foxes, but also birds, possums, and other animals. For households using rainwater for food preparation and drinking, the risk of getting a gastro illness from bat faeces is no different than for other animals. Australian Bat Lyssavirus cannot be contracted from drinking or using water from rainwater tanks that is contaminated with bat faeces.
To minimise the risk of faecal bacteria and other microorganisms contaminating your rainwater tank, here are some methods you can use:
- Install a ‘first flush’ device that will divert the first dirty water flow away from the tank;
- Clear and trim vegetation (eg. overhanging tree branches) away from awnings, gutters, and tanks to reduce accessibility from wildlife;
- Install a <1mm screen to filter material entering the tank;
- Regularly flush your tank to ‘de-sludge’ and remove accumulated debris;
- Disinfect your tank (eg. add 40ml of sodium hypochlorite per 1KL of water);
- Disinfect water prior to use through filtration and boiling;
- Regularly inspect the tank for signs of animal access.
Visit his link to the NSW health website to find more advice on safely managing rainwater for drinking purposes where there is no alternate supply.
Local water catchment
There is no evidence that a flying fox camp has any impact on publicly available drinking water provided by local authorities. The water continues to be treated and this eliminates any contamination from additional flying fox faeces in the catchment.
There have been cases that humans can get sick by having contact with flying foxes however it is very rare for this to occur.
Contact or exposures to bat faeces, urine or blood do not pose a risk of exposure to Lyssavirus, nor do living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas, and can only be contracted through bites or scratches.
Hendra virus has only been contracted through human contact with an infected horse. All confirmed human cases to date became infected following high level exposures to body fluids of an infected horse, such as doing autopsies on horses without wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, or being extensively sprayed with respiratory secretions.
There is no evidence of human to human, bat to human, bat to dog, or dog to human transmission.
If any injured bats have been found please don't handle them, it is best to ring the local WIRES Volunteers on 4684 1656.
Click here to view the Stonequarry Creek Grey Headed Flying-fox Camp Plan of Management
The camp is located on Stonequarry Creek between the railway Viaduct, at the end of Webster St, and the Prince St. Bridge, Picton. The camp varies in size seasonally depending on weather conditions, available food sources, mating and migration.
Since February 2014 council has monitored the camp with it peaking in excess of 10,000 Grey Headed Flying-foxes for a period of 2-3 weeks in March/April 2018. The camp does fluctuate seasonally with the core area of the camp being located on Stonequarry Creek between the railway viaduct at the end of Webster Street and the Prince Street Bridge in Picton.
The core camp area partially crosses 26 private residential properties, as well as Crown water reserve along the creek. At the peak the camp covered over 50 private residential properties and portions the creek bordering Victoria Oval and upstream past the Picton Show Society land.
It has been noted by local residents that Flying-foxes have been present in this area since 2011 however it would seem that the camp numbers grew substantially after habitat destruction following the Halls Road fire in October 2013 which destroyed 15,600 Ha of bush land.
The current site provides many attributes required for a Flying-fox camp site including close access to water and food sources and protection from extreme weather. The site is also large enough to accommodate the entire camp population that seasonally fluctuates. Grey Headed Flying-foxes are a nocturnal species and travel within a foraging radius of 50 km's of their camp site each night. However some Flying-foxes have been observed travelling 500 km's between camp sites.
Grey Headed Flying-foxes play a significant ecological role and contribute to ecosystem health by dispersing seed and pollen over the large distances they travel. Long distance dispersal creates genetic diversity which is important for the long term survival of various plant communities. This species is considered an important ‘keystone’ species that protects the long term health of Australia’s biodiversity.
As numbers of this species have continued to decline by as much as 30% over the last 10 years, the NSW Government have determined Grey Headed Flying-foxes as a vulnerable species and in 2001 listed them under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
What is Hendra virus?
"Hendra virus is a virus carried by flying foxes that inhabit Australia, Papua New Guinea, and surrounding islands. So far, clinical disease due to Hendra virus infection has only been recognised in Australia. Flying foxes appear to be unaffected by the virus. Rarely, Hendra virus spreads from flying foxes to horses, (spillover events) causing severe disease, and may then spread to people or animals in close contact with infected horses. The virus can be deadly to both humans and horses." Hendra Virus, June 2018, Primefact 970 eleventh edition Animal Biosecurity, NSW Department of Primary Industries.
There have been no known incidents of dogs/cats contracting viruses through eating a deceased flying fox carcass, but if a pet becomes sick after contact with a flying fox, seek advice from a veterinarian.
The risk of contracting the Hendra virus is more common in horses by eating food that may be contaminated by bat urine and/or other bodily fluids. Horse owners within 20 km of the camp should be aware that preventative vaccines are available from your vet.
There is no evidence of human to human, bat to human, bat to dog, or dog to human transmission of Hendra Virus.
Contact or exposures to bat faeces, urine or blood do not pose a risk of exposure to Lyssavirus, nor do living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas, as long as bats are not handled. Apart from two horses, no wild or domestic animals in Australia have ever been found to be infected with ABL.
Simple, non-harmful deterrents that could also be of assistance on your property include:
• Creating visual/sound/smell barriers with fencing or hedges using plants that do not produce edible fruit or nectar-exuding flowers
• Placing predator decoys (e.g. owls) on verandas or in trees
• Keeping food or habitat trees in your yard trimmed and pruned
• Placing reflective or shiny deterrents (e.g. CDs or aluminium foil strips) in tree branches
• When landscaping, plant fruit or habitat trees away from the home, or don’t use these plants at all.
It should be noted that residents are not allowed to conduct flying-fox removal or dispersal activities. Any activities that may result in the disturbance of a roosting flying fox colony or individual flying-fox can result in prosecution under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
Flying foxes tend to feed at night on fruiting or flowering trees and shrubs, including palm trees and will keep feeding in your backyard until the fruit is finished. If you do not wish flying foxes feeding in your backyard you could remove the fruit manually or cover the fruiting tree in a net to reduce access. To minimise injuring the flying foxes by becoming trapped inside the netting only use fine netting with holes smaller than what you could fit your finger through.
Find more information about safe netting on http://www.wildlifefriendlyfencing.com/WFF/Netting.html
Flying foxes tend to be noisiest early in the evening to feed and when they return in the early morning. They can continue to be noisy during the day as they fly around trying to find a roost. Unfortunately this is a daily event while the camp is active.
Colonies tend to be noisiest when they are disturbed by people due to stress and least noisy when left alone. Therefore, if you plan on making some noise, such as mowing the lawn, you can expect the flying foxes to get rowdy for a while.
Humans have different sensitivities to smells. Not all people will find the smell of a flying fox camp difficult to live with, others more so. This may explain why residents sometimes find it difficult to get others to understand how much impact the odour has on their daily life.
The main odour associated with flying foxes is the scent male flying foxes use to mark their territory and is strongest at the camp. It is not associated with the faeces dropped during flight or around the camp. The most important thing to note is that the odour is not a risk to human health.
Managing the smell within the home- Planting vegetation with fragrant flowers can assist with masking the odour. Fragrant deodorisers can assist within the home and it also helps to close all windows and doors.
The flying fox digestive system is much faster than a human system (12 to 30 minutes between eating and poo-ing) and they often don't physically chew and swallow their food – they crush it against the roof of their mouth and spit it out after swallowing the juice. This primarily liquid diet contributes to their quick digestive system.
Faecal drop increases under the flying fox foraging routes and flight paths. Lighting assists flying fox navigation and increases fly-over, so where possible, turn off outdoor lighting at night,
Drying your clothes outdoors
Residents will experience the greatest impact from faeces 'bombs' on washing as the flying foxes fly over when they are leaving their camp in the evening or arriving in the morning. It is advisable to take in washing in between the dusk and dawn periods when the bats are most active.
To remove flying fox faeces from clothes, treat them like fruit stains. Soak the item as soon as possible (preferably while the stain is still wet) in a good stain remover. Unfortunately some fruits with strong coloured flesh (e.g. mulberries) may leave a permanent stain.
Cars and other painted or outdoor surfaces
Some residents have reported that flying fox faeces seem to strip paint from cars, houses and garden furniture. There is some information to suggest that this is more likely due to the faeces drying and peeling off a surface and, especially if the underlying paint is older, lifting off a patch of the surface paint with it.
Flying fox droppings are less corrosive than bird droppings, and the best response is to remove the faeces as soon as possible with soapy water, as you would for bird droppings.
If your pool has a filter system installed already and you follow the correct maintenance for your pool, this will be adequate to keep it clean and you shouldn’t have to take any extra action specifically to address flying fox faeces. If you’re experiencing a large volume of faeces, a pool cover is an option, but in general, flying fox faeces are no different to bird droppings landing in your pool.
It is very rare for this to occur, but if you have been bitten or scratched it is advised to gently but thoroughly wash the wound straight away with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. Then cover the area with an antiseptic cream/serum and see a doctor as soon as possible.
Again, it is advised to avoid the handling of flying foxes to deter bites and scratches to occur in the first place. If any injured bats have been found it would be best to ring the local WIRES on 4684 1656.
Residents who are concerned about damage to their property should contact their home insurer for advice on making a claim.
Council is not responsible for electricity supply. Any residents who have suffered damages as a result of power outages should contact their electrical provider or their home insurer.
The main stakeholders affected will be:
- the local community members whose land adjoins the bat colony and surrounding neighbours
- Local fruit growers either for private or public use
- People who own horses within 20km of the bat colony that may need to vaccinate their livestock
- Wildlife carers and conservationist who may need to handle the sick or injured animals
- Local/state and federal government agencies that implement management procedures and legislate the protection of the threatened native species.
Flying foxes prefer sheltered areas, preferably near water and with an abundance of food sources nearby.
They have seemed to relocate closer to Picton after the Halls Road Fire which occurred in October 2013. This fire was quite extensive, burning out 15,600 Ha of bushland between the areas of Balmoral, Bargo, Yanderra, Picton and Wilton.
It is believed to have burnt out their previously existing natural habitat, also there has been a state wide food shortage with flying fox habitat being removed due to development and land clearing with more flying foxes relocating closer to urban areas.
Public demands for roost relocation's have increased over the past two decades as flying-foxes have been roosting and foraging in urban areas more frequently. This has been occurring due to; displacement of natural habitat from naturally occurring events such as fire, urban expansion and food availability within range of urban areas. Flying-fox species inhabiting Australia are the target of community concerns in relation to public health, amenity and impacts on agriculture.
It has been recognised that relocation of a flying-fox camp from one site to a specific alternative site has never been successful. It is well understood that if flying-fox camps are intentionally dispersed from one location and community, they will end up in another community.
Such dispersal's however may result in new camps establishing in an equally problematic locations and those establishments may only be on a temporary basis.
In some cases, individuals will remain at the site even when subject to extraordinary levels of human induced disturbances. This is largely due to the species level of strong fidelity to the camp location.
Click here for a more detailed report on Why can'y Flying Foxes simply be relocated?
Grey Headed Flying-foxes are a nationally listed threatened species listed as 'vulnerable' because there has been a national decline in population numbers by up to 30%.
The main threat to Grey-headed Flying-foxes in NSW is clearing or modification of native vegetation. This removes appropriate camp habitat and limits the availability of natural food resources, particularly winter-spring feeding habitat in north-eastern NSW. In N.S.W less than 15% of potentially suitable forest for the Grey-headed Flying-fox occurs in conservation reserves; only 5% of roost sites are similarly reserved (Hall and Richards 2000).
For any work to occur within the flying fox camp area a threatened species licence approval is required under the Biodiversity Act 2016. Council has recently be approved for a licence to create buffer zones between residential properties and the camp as per the Stonequarry Creek Grey Headed Flying-fox Camp Management Plan.
A copy of the threatened species licence can be seen here.
For more information about the conservation status of Grey Headed flying-foxes click here.