In the dusk and dawn skies in autumn you will be able to see some large spooky creatures flying overhead. If you listen closely you will hear them chattering as they fly past. They can make quite a racket and be a bit smelly but these little troublemakers are really important buddies.
Groups of flying-foxes are currently flying off to new areas as their food sources start to become scarce. Most of these guys will be flying south so Victoria and New South Wales can expect a few more. They are also more active at the moment as they look for mates from March to May, so watch out for them at dusk and at night in particular.Distribution map of the Grey-headed Flying-fox, Pteropus poliocephalus.
The Grey-headed Flying-fox gets its name from its grey, furry head but it also has a bright orange neck. If you imagine them without wings, they really do look just like little foxes.
Also called ‘Fruit Bats’, these guys actually prefer pollen and nectar to fruit. The Grey-headed Flying-fox often travels 20 to 50 km from their daytime roost to find food. They love eating nectar from flowering gums and banksias and munching on Lilli Pilli fruit and Moreton Bay Figs. Despite concerns from farmers, they only go for fruit crops when native food sources are scarce.
Grey-headed Flying-foxes often share roosting spots, called camps, with other bats such as the Little Red Flying-fox and the Black Flying-fox. The Grey-headed Flying-fox is much larger than other Australian flying-foxes. Their camps can have up to 30,000 bats in them.
Even though you look up and can see hundreds of these guys flying past, they’re actually a vulnerable species with their population declining.
People sometimes complain about the noise and smell that these buddies can produce in their camps, but it’s important to remember flying-foxes are vital to the health of our environment as they disperse seed and pollen over large distances. These bats work like giant bees and are an important key stone species.
There was a famous colony of Grey-headed Flying-foxes in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens but recently the council moved them on as they were damaging trees. The council used a humane method of playing irritating sounds underneath the Flying-foxes roosting trees at dawn and dusk. This process meant they had to look for new places to roost. The displaced Grey-headed Flying-foxes have relocated to places such as Jervis Bay (south) or Urunga (north).
When dad is trying to impress the mother flying-foxes, he secretes a smelly substance on a tree
branch from glands in his shoulders. He will defend this area from other males who try to come
onto his turf. The mums are attracted to the smell and will mate with the male they like the most.
A flying-fox mum gives birth from September to November. Mother flying-foxes protect their babies from the sun during the day and the cold during the night by wrapping them in their wings. For the first three weeks mum brings her baby with her when she flies off to look for food. The little baby holds tightly onto mum’s fur when she flies. The baby flying-fox feeds on mum’s milk until it is old enough to try mum’s food (usually several months).
These flying-foxes sometimes behave like little troublemakers, with their noisy calls and smelly roosts, but our forests would not be the same without them so lets make sure we're being great buddies to these wonderful animals. Click here for more information.
There have been a few reports of flying-foxes carrying diseases so if you see an injured animal, don’t pick it up. Call your local wildlife rescue service and they will be able to handle them safely. Here is the NSW government's safety advice for flying foxes.
Backyard fruit tree nets can become traps for wildlife including flying-foxes. Make sure you only use animal friendly netting and don’t leave any loose sections.
During heatwaves flying foxes are very vulnerable to heat stroke and may need a wildlife carers help to re-hydrate them. This video explains more.
DID YOU KNOW
You might hear these guys making a racket as they don’t use ultrasound to communicate like other bats do. Instead flying-foxes rely on their eyes and nose. They can also navigate by using the lights in cities and towns.