Flying foxes have an important role
Flying-foxes arrived at the Kooloonbung Creek camp in the 1990s. Prior to this, flying-foxes had occupied Sea Acres Nature Reserve, approximately 3.5 km to the south east.
Flying Foxes are native mammals that roost by day and fly out at night to feed on trees nectar, flowers and fruits. They have excellent senses including eyesight and smell and can fly up to 100km to forage each night. They also perform an important role in pollination and seed dispersal, helping to ensure the health of native forests. A single flying fox can disperse up to 60,000 seeds in a single night.
Flying foxes feed on flowers, nectar, fruits of Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Banksia Lily Pilly, Figs and various other species of trees and shrubs. Some species of Native forest plants only flower at night and have evolved with nocturnal pollinators including flying foxes. Flying foxes can transport pollen for long distances and disperse large seeds.
More information on flying foxes is available on the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment web page at:
Black flying-fox (Pteropus alecto)
The black flying-fox (BFF) occurrs throughout coastal areas from Shark Bay in Western Australia, across Northern Australia, down through Queensland and into NSW.
BFF forage on the fruit and blossoms of native and introduced plants including orchard species at times. BFF are largely nomadic animals with movement and local distribution influenced by climatic variability and the flowering and fruiting patterns of their preferred food plants. Feeding commonly occurs within 20 km of the camp site. BFF usually roost beside a creek or river in a wide range of warm and moist habitats, including lowland rainforest gullies, coastal stringybark forests and mangroves. During the breeding season camp sizes can change significantly in response to the availability of food and the arrival of animals from other areas.
Grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)
The Grey-headed flying fox (GHFF) are classified as a vulnerable species under state and commonwealth legislation. GHFF is found throughout eastern Australia, generally within 200 kilometres of the coast, from Mackay in Queensland to Melbourne, Victoria across to South Australia and have been observed in Tasmania. GHFF requires foraging resources and camp sites within rainforests, open forests, closed and open woodlands (including melaleuca swamps and banksia woodlands). GHFF is also found throughout urban and agricultural areas where food trees exist and will raid orchards when other food is scarce.
Koolonbung Creek is a maternity site for GHFF. Mothers arrive to give birth and rear their babies. As this site is a maternity camp, it is likely that some individuals have a strong site fidelity, returning year after year as part of seasonal migrations.
GHFF in Australia are regarded as one population that moves around freely within its entire national range.
- GHFF may travel up to 100 kilometres in a single night
- GHFF may travel 500 kilometres over 48 hours when moving camp
- GHFF move south in spring and summer.
- GHFF inhabit coastal forests of north-east NSW and south-east Queensland in winter
Little red flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus)
The little red flying-fox (LRFF) is widely distributed throughout northern and eastern Australia, with populations occurring across northern Australia and down the east coast into Victoria. The LRFF forages almost exclusively on nectar and pollen, although will eat fruit at times. The LRFF has the most nomadic distribution, strongly influenced by availability of food resources (predominantly the flowering of eucalypt species) which means the duration of their stay in any one place is generally very short. LRFF travel south to visit the coastal areas of south-east Queensland and NSW during the summer months.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to see them?
You can watch the "fly out" at sunset each day when thousands of flying foxes decamp in search of food and water. The spectacular event can be viewed from Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve. When the weather is hot, flying foxes will often dip their bodies by skimming the water surface then licking their wet belly.
Flying fox numbers generally increase in spring. The camp has recorded a maximum of 173,000 flying-foxes in January 2014 since quarterly monitoring began in 2012 as part of the National Flying-fox Monitoring Program. This influx mainly comprised the highly nomadic Little Red Flying Fox. Camp numbers are usually below 20,000.
Why can't we get rid of the flying foxes?
Dispersing a flying fox camp is a very difficult thing to do. And even if you were able move the camp on, they would probably set up a new camp at some of the suitable bushland nearby.
Based on a study of 17 dispersals around Australia, in 16 cases the flying foxes stayed in the local area, normally moving less than 600 metres from the original camp. In most cases there was still conflict about flying foxes at the original site or the local area years after the dispersal actions.
If the land managers were actually able to successfully disperse the flying fox camps it could then be responsible for managing any conflicts and costs related to new camps that are established as a result of the dispersal.
Can I get sick from flying-foxes?
Flying foxes pose no major health risks to humans - unless you are bitten or scratched by one. Human infections from flying foxes are very rare. There are no confirmed cases of anyone ever getting sick by touching flying-fox faeces, urine or blood, but of course you should still wash your hands after touching anything like that. We recommend never touching flying foxes unless you are specifically trained or vaccinated against Lyssavirus.
Find out more about bats and health risks on the NSW Health website at https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/Pages/flying-foxes-questions.aspx
Advice from the NSW Public Health Unit is:
- Do not attempt to touch or handle live or dead flying foxes
- Only trained, vaccinated bat handlers should attempt to catch injured or sick bats
- If you encounter a sick, injured or dead bat, contact the experts at your local wildlife rescue service FAWNA on 6581 4141.
- If you are bitten or scratched, gently but thoroughly wash the wound straight away with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. Use an antiseptic, such as Betadine and see a doctor as soon as possible.
Are my pets at risk?
NSW health reports that there is no evidence of dog to human transmission of Hendra virus. According to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Victoria there have been no reports of illness in pets caused by eating deceased flying foxes. However, 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.
Horses may get the Hendra virus infection from eating food recently contaminated by flying-fox urine, saliva or other body fluids. But there is no evidence of human to human, bat to human, bat to dog, or dog to human transmission of Hendra virus. 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 mucous from infected horses.
If you have horses, vaccines are the best way to reduce the risk of infection and are available from your vet.
You can get more information on managing horse health risks from the Hendra virus on the Department of Primary Industries website.
Why are they so noisy?
Early morning and evening: You will hear a lot of noise when the flying foxes leave their camp early in the evening to feed and when they return in the early morning. They continue being noisy as they fly around trying to find a roost. During the day they can fight and bicker like children over a favoured spot, usually trying to find one as close as possible to water. Unfortunately this is a daily event while the camp is active.
During the day: When flying foxes are stressed or frightened they make a lot more noise. Colonies tend to be noisiest when they are disturbed by people and least noisy when left alone. If you plan on making some noise near a camp, such as mowing the lawn, you can expect the flying foxes to get rowdy for a while.
Feeding at night: You may experience an individual or small group of flying foxes feeding in your fruiting or flowering trees and shrubs, including palm trees, at night. This will be ongoing until the fruit is finished. If you do not want flying foxes feeding in your backyard you could remove the fruit manually or net the tree to make access for the flying foxes difficult. You can find more information about netting on the WildlifeFriendly Fencing website, including their brochure about how to 'Protect your garden fruit in a wildlife friendly way'.
What is that smell?
Humans have different sensitivities to smells. Not all people will find the smell of a flying fox camp difficult to live with. This may explain why you sometimes find it difficult to get others to understand how much impact the odour has on you and your 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 reported as being associated with the faeces dropped during flight. The most important thing to note is that the odour is not a risk to human health.
- Predicting relief from the smell: The smell is usually at its strongest during hot, humid and still or low-wind days. Good rain will wash away the smell for a period of time. The wind direction will often also determine when the odour will be at its most difficult for you. It may be useful to follow the weather forecasts and relate them to the high-odour days. This will help you to predict when you may get some relief.
- Managing the smell within your home: There is not a lot of information about how to manage odours entering your home from an outside source. The main advice is to close all windows and doors. Obviously this can be a problem on hot days. Where possible use air-conditioning on a recirculate option (where the air is drawn from inside the home rather than outside) or use fans to circulate internal air.
What do I do about Flying fox faeces?
Flying foxes excrete either during flight or by turning heads-up and holding onto a branch by their wing claws. 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.
- Drying your clothes outdoors: You will experience the greatest impact from faeces 'bombs' on your washing as the flying foxes move over your home when they are leaving their camp in the evening or arriving in the morning. It may be useful to note the approximate times the flying foxes are leaving and returning in relation to the sunrise and sunset. This will give you some level of control knowing when you will need to ensure your washing is brought in off the line.
Some residents in other regions have constructed tarpaulin coverings over their clothes-lines to protect their washing. ; To remove flying fox faeces from your washing 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 seems 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. Whether it does or does not strip paint, there is evidence to suggest that if the faeces is removed regularly with soapy water, it does not remove paint.
- Rainwater tanks: If you live under the flying fox flight path it is inevitable that flying fox faeces will be washed into your rainwater tanks when it rains. NSW Health recommends against drinking water from rainwater tanks where there is public drinking water available. Advice on safely managing rainwater for drinking purposes where there is no alternative supply is available on the NSW Health website.
Use the water from your tank for the garden, toilet flushing and car washing. However, the water will contain the faeces, including any fruit-colouring, unless you use a 'first-flush' system to prevent the first portion of roof run-off from entering the tank.
- 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.