Grey-headed flying-fox

Smaller image 2017 192101 Grey-Headed Flying Fox - Nara Peek-Silva Illustration - peekart.com.jpg

Appearance

Grey-headed flying-foxes are large, with a wingspan of up to a metre. They are the only Australian flying-fox species that has a collar of orange/brown fur fully encircling their neck. Their head and stomach is covered in light grey fur, sometimes with flecks of ginger. Fur on the back of adults is dark grey while juveniles have a frosted appearance. Grey-headed flying-foxes also have leg fur which extends to the ankle. This helps to distinguish this species from the similarly sized black flying-fox which has bare legs below the knee.

Forests need flying-foxes

Grey-headed flying-foxes play an important role in the survival and regeneration of our native forests, feeding mostly on nectar and fruit. Important food plants include native species such as Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora, melaleucas, banksias and species of Syzygium. They will also supplement their diets with leaves. They have been known to travel up to 50km in one night foraging for food. They pollinate flowers as they forage for nectar, like bees, and disperse seeds as they feed on native fruits, like birds, but over a greater distance than any bee or bird. This is especially important in urban and fragmented environments, as they can fly freely between patches of forest and woodland. 

Any decline in the number of flying-foxes is likely to reduce pollination and seed dispersal within our native forests.

Breeding behaviour

Grey-headed flying-foxes roost in large aggregations, known as camps. Females generally reach sexual maturity in their second year and will only bear one young per year. Breeding season generally occurs in early autumn and after 6 months gestation the live young are born in spring. For a 1-2 month period, the young will be carried with the mother, clinging to her during nightly flights in search of nectar. Once a little bit older, they are left in the camp or ‘crèches’. Young are weaned when they are five to six months old.

Conservation Status

The grey-headed flying-fox has suffered major population decline over the last decade and are listed as 'Vulnerable' under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The biggest threat to the species is habitat loss resulting in fewer roosting and foraging opportunities.

It is an offence to harm threatened species or their habitat. Large fines and/or prison sentences may apply.

What's the difference between a flying-fox and a bat?

Flying-fox, fruit-bat, microbat; they are all given the general name bat and are a part of the same order; Chiroptera. However there are two suborders; megabats and microbats, which are very very different.

Flying-foxes, like the grey-headed flying-fox, are a part of the megabat group; as their name suggests they are large, they generally eat fruit and nectar and do not use echolocation to locate their food.

Microbats are small, generally insectivorous and use echolocation to locate their prey.

Flying-foxes and Microbats Fact Sheet 2013.pdf (pdf. 420KB)

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve

Ku-ring-gai is home to an important maternal colony of the grey-headed flying-fox, located in the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve, Gordon.

The colony consists on average of about 30,000 to 40,000 bats during summer. During the winter months the population may drop to a few dozen bats or even no bats at all as they leave the reserve to feed on flowering trees elsewhere in NSW or as far north as Queensland.

Management of the Reserve

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve is subject to a long-term Conservation Agreement with the NSW Government.  The Reserve is managed in accordance with this agreement and the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Management Plan 2013. 

Conservation Agreement (PDF) (pdf. 530KB)

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Management Plan 2013 - Part 1.pdf (pdf. 2MB)

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Management Plan 2013 - Part 2.pdf (pdf. 4MB)

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve 10 Year Site Management and Roosting Habitat Plan.pdf (pdf. 4MB)

Access to the Reserve

Access to the Reserve is restricted. This is to prevent disturbance to the breeding bats, the surrounding neighbours and possible safety issues. The Reserve is located in a narrow gully surrounded by rock cliffs. Access is via steep slippery surfaces with two entry points only. The best time to view the bats flying is at dusk during the warmer months, from the bridge located on Rosedale Road near Minns Road, Gordon. Interpretive signs are located at this point. Pets are not allowed in the Reserve.

To visit the Reserve, for research or other purposes, please contact Council's Natural Areas Officer on 9424 0000 or email kmc@kmc.nsw.gov.au.

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve map (484KB) (pdf. 484KB)

Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society

The Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society (KBCS) was established in 1985 and runs a long-term habitat restoration project. The Society has also produced a number of publications in collaboration with Council and conducts interpretive walks and talks.
Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society website

Monitoring and mapping

Each month experienced volunteers in collaboration with Ku-ring-gai Council and KBCS conduct fly out counts at strategic locations surrounding the reserve. This data provides a long term indication of the population and fluctuations of the flying-foxes in the camp.  Additionally, Council map where grey-headed flying-foxes are roosting within the camp to better understand how flying-foxes use the Ku-ring-gai Flying Fox Reserve.

Grey-headed Fling-fox Counts Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve 1995-2020 (pdf. 102KB)

If you are interested in helping with fly-out counts you can contact Council’s Natural Areas Officer on 02 9424 0000.

Micro-climate

Micro-climate is an important but not very well understood factor in determining where Flying-fox roost. In collaboration with Council and supported through an Environmental Levy Grant, SydneyBats installed a weather station in the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve. This data provides an insight into why the bats select particular locations to roost and can help Council manage the camp to improve the areas away from residents and in more remote areas within the camp. You can view a snapshot of this data below.

What to do if you find injured or distressed flying-foxes

Grey-headed flying-foxes are particularly vulnerable during extreme weather conditions such as high temperatures, drought and storms. Emergency situations for flying-foxes include:

  • Starvation events – low availability of native nectar sources caused by habitat destruction, drought or bushfires can significantly impact vulnerable flying-foxes such as pups and nursing mothers, and may also impact reproduction rates.
  • Heat stress – extreme heatwave conditions may result in significant numbers in a camp dying from overheating or dehydration. 

If you come across injured, distressed or deceased bats, do not directly handle the bat. It may be injured, sick or weakened and malnourished. The following guidelines have been developed for the safe rescue or disposal of bats: 

Do you have distressed or dead bats in your yard? (pdf. 2MB)

If you find a deceased flying-fox in a public area (eg. on a road or in a park), call Council on 9424 0000 to arrange clean up. Any deceased flying-foxes which are banded should be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme. If you find a banded flying-fox, do not attempt to read or remove the band yourself. Instead, call your local Licensed fauna rehabilitation group (WIRES on 1300 094 737 or Sydney Wildlife Rescue 9413 4300). Further information: Helping flying-foxes in emergencies

COVID-19 and Wildlife

We are aware there have been enquiries from the community in relation to flying-foxes and the current COVID-19 situation. There is NO evidence of SARS or SARS-like, MERS or MERS-like, 2019-nCOV or 2019-nCoV-like viruses in Australian wildlife (including bats).

For further information on SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and Australian wildlife please refer to Wildlife Health Australia.

For further information on COVID-19 please refer to NSW Health.

Useful links

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

Australian Government Recovery Plans

Australian Government Draft Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-Fox

Grey-headed flying-fox species profile

The Action Plan for Australian Bats

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

Final Determination - Grey-headed flying-fox

Species Profile - Grey-headed flying-fox

Priority Action Statement for bats in NSW

Flying fox camps fact sheet- NSW

Living with Grey-headed Flying Foxes in urban areas

Other Government bat websites

CSIRO - Bat Lyssavirus

Non-Government organisation resources

Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society

Australasian Bat Society

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve report on Habitat Restoration Project.pdf (pdf. 6MB)

Fact sheets

Wildlife Health Australia

Coronaviruses in Australian bats

Novel Corona virus disease (COVID-19)