Flying-foxes: Your Home, Their Home

A bit like our homes being a safe environment where we get to spend time with our families, relax and sleep, flying-fox camps – such as the one in Kyogle – provide a similar safe haven for flying-foxes. They are a resting habitat during the daytime after a night of foraging, they enable the flying-foxes to engage in social interactions and find a mate, they provide refuge for females feeding their pups and provide a safe haven at night for bats that are too young to fly while the adults depart to feed.

 Loss of habitat, which flying-foxes rely on as places to forage for food and roost, is causing flying-foxes to move to more urbanised areas. The flying-fox camp in Kyogle has caused some conflict between residents, recreational site users and the flying-foxes, however, there are ways to minimise the impacts.


How do flying-foxes choose where to roost?

Flying-foxes roost in groups (known as camps) in trees normally above 5 metres and like to be near permanent water. Most flying-fox camps are located within 20-50km of a good food supply of fruit and blossom. Flying-foxes are heat sensitive and can suffer heat stress. This is why they tend to select a roosting area that has a good mid-storey of vegetation to help maintain a cool, humid and sheltered environment. They also prefer their roosting areas to have a thick understorey that limits access by people, domestic animals and other predators.

What’s that noise?

Flying-foxes are social animals and have over thirty distinct calls. When at a roost or feeding, flying-foxes ‘squabble’ loudly. This mixture of screeches and cackles is actually their way of communicating and allows them to establish their personal roost sites or feeding territories, ward off rivals, stay in touch with their offspring, and warn others of possible threats. Avoid disturbing a flying-fox roost because when flying-foxes get stressed, they squabble more, and the noise will likely increase. They are quietest when left alone.

What’s that smell?

Contrary to what you may have heard, 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. Flying-fox camps are highly structured. The majority of roost trees are occupied by a single male and a number of females and their young. The male flying-fox scent-marks his territory and often returns to the same branch of a tree over many weeks or months.

Why are they coming into our towns, villages and gardens?

As a result of habitat loss, some colonies of flying-foxes are relocating to more urbanised areas and supplementing their native diet with fruit of introduced plants such as garden and orchard fruit trees, street tree plantings, introduced palms and some noxious weeds (e.g. privet).

How do I stop flying-foxes roosting in the trees in my garden?

Flying-foxes prefer tall, relatively dense vegetation, so are unlikely to stay in a backyard garden for long. They are most likely just visiting to feed on an available food source. Trimming vegetation or removing branches may deter them from roosting. Alternatively, planting a buffer of low shrubs can provide a screen between your house and the flying-foxes.

How do I stop flying-foxes feeding on the fruiting and flowering trees in my garden?

Cover your fruiting or flowering trees with wildlife-friendly netting and secure at the base of the tree. Avoid using other types of netting as this increases the risk of entanglement and painful injuries or death.

How do I minimise the impact from flying-fox droppings?

Flying-fox excrete in trees and during flight – most commonly in evenings and mornings. To minimise the potential impact:

  • Relocate clotheslines from below fruit trees
  • Bring in washing before sunset or cover clotheslines with an old sheet or shower curtain
  • Park cars undercover
  • Install a first flush diverter on rainwater tanks where the water is used for drinking and screen inlets and outlets. De-sludge your rainwater tanks periodically
  • Protect swimming pools with a pool cover. Skimming, vacuuming, filtration and chlorination will remove other contaminants
  • Cover children’s sandpits when not in use.

Flying-fox droppings are no different to other animal droppings and it is advised to avoid direct handling.

Flying-fox and disease – am I at risk?

There is no risk of infection to humans if you do not make physical contact with a flying-fox. There are no reports of people contracting diseases from living close to flying-fox camps.

Australian bat lyssavirus is only transmitted via the bite or a scratch of an infected flying-fox and not through droppings or urine. This is why you should never handle flying-foxes but instead contact your local wildlife rescue organisation.

Hendra virus is a rare disease that can be transmitted from infected flying-foxes to horses. Not all flying-foxes carry the disease and there is no evidence that humans can contract Hendra virus directly from flying-foxes. To reduce the risk of Hendra virus, vaccinate horses and remove them from paddocks where fruiting or flowering trees have attracted flying-foxes. Do not keep food and water for pets (particularly horses) underneath trees and, if possible, keep it undercover.