Living with grey-headed flying-foxes

Grey-headed flying-foxes are increasingly setting up camp near towns and people in search of food and shelter because of the loss of their natural habitat and in response to local food availability. Living near flying-fox camps can sometimes be problematic for local residents, because of concerns about health and impacts on amenity of flying-fox camps.

Because the grey-headed flying-fox is listed as a threatened species in NSW, approval is required to disturb or relocate flying-foxes. The following sections suggest some simple measures that the community can take to minimise conflict when they are living close to a flying-fox camp.

Flying-foxes in your backyard?

Flying-foxes should not be a problem if they visit your backyard. Residential backyards are rarely ideal roosting habitat for flying-foxes. They may enjoy eating the nectar from any native flowers you may have, or occasionally your backyard fruit, but they would generally not stay for more than a week or two.

If flying-foxes are causing problems in your area, contact OEH to determine possible actions. See below for advice on protecting your fruit trees.

Netting of garden fruit trees

Guidelines have been prepared to help owners of backyard and commercial fruit trees in the proper construction of netting structures that will protect their trees from damage and minimise harm to native wildlife, including flying-foxes.

For more information go to Protect your garden fruit in a wildlife friendly way .

Plant roost trees away from houses

To make roost trees near housing less attractive to flying-foxes, clear the understorey and remove some of the branches of the trees. Low, dense trees and shrubs planted around fence lines also form a barrier that flying-foxes are unlikely to roost in. Over time, a roost may be encouraged to move by planting roost trees further away from houses.

Odour and noise

The main odour associated with flying-foxes is the scent male flying-foxes use to mark their territory. While this smell may be offensive to some people, it does not represent a risk to human health.

Noise can be an issue when a roost is located near residential and business areas or schools. 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.

In some circumstances, flying-fox camp management may be appropriate for a particular camp. Depending on a range of factors, the management may involve routine camp management actions such as mowing and the removal of weeds to more significant actions such as buffer creation and camp disturbance. For more information please refer to the Flying-Fox Camp Management Policy 2015.


Flying-foxes are active at night when flying long distances in search of food. If your house is in the flight path of flying-foxes, droppings may have an impact on amenity.

If you take your washing inside at night, you won’t have to worry about droppings on your washing when flying-foxes fly over. If washing is left out overnight, think about putting up old sheets or a shower curtain covering your washing on top. Direct handling of flying-fox droppings should be avoided. The health risks associated with flying-fox droppings relate mainly to the small potential risk to humans of gastrointestinal or lung diseases.

Schools near flying-fox camps

Schools in close proximity to flying-fox camps should encourage students to stay away from the flying-foxes, their droppings and urine. Children should always wash their hands with soap and water after playing outside as a matter of good hygiene.

Pets and flying-foxes

Pets should be kept away from flying-foxes if possible. If a pet becomes sick after contact with a flying-fox, seek advice from a veterinarian.

Damage to commercial orchards

Removal of natural habitat means that flying-foxes take advantage of a range of new foods in urban areas, including fruit trees and in orchards. This is naturally a source of frustration for orchardists and backyard growers. On 1 July 2011, the NSW Government introduced a $5-million scheme to subsidise the cost of installing flying-fox exclusion netting for Sydney Basin and Central Coast orchardists - where impacts occur every year - to eliminate the need to issue shooting licences for flying-foxes. This subsidy has now been extended to cover the whole of NSW, not just the Sydney Basin.

More information about the Flying-fox netting subsidy program.

For information on how to apply for a netting subsidy, contact the Rural Assistance Authority (RAA) by phoning 02 6391 3000 or freecall 1800 678 593.

Disease risk

Flying-fox camps in public places, such as parks, school grounds and residential areas, can sometimes raise concerns about possible health risks for community members. Concerns include flying-fox infections, noise, odour and the impact of flying-fox droppings on houses, cars, and washing.

Human infections with viruses borne by flying-foxes are very rare. In Australia at January 2015, there have been three confirmed cases of Australian Bat Lyssavirus in humans. All were in Queensland. There have been seven confirmed cases of Hendra virus in humans, also all in Queensland.

Go to NSW Health for the Hendra Virus Factsheet and Lyssa Virus Factsheet

What can you do

NSW Health advises that you should avoid direct contact with flying-foxes as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and it leading to infection.

For further information on how to deal with injured, stressed, orphaned or dead flying-foxes or if you are scratched or bitten by a flying-fox, please go to the OEH Flying-foxes page.

Why do people care about grey-headed flying-foxes?

The grey-headed flying-fox, like the koala and kangaroo, are native species and are protected in Australia.

Like all flying-foxes, grey-headed flying-foxes play an important role in Australian environments because they are natural pollinators and seed dispersers. They are crucial for the survival and regeneration of our native forests and are important for local honey production. They also provide food for other native animals such as owls.


Why is the grey-headed flying-fox listed as vulnerable to extinction?

The grey-headed flying-fox is listed as vulnerable to extinction under NSW and Australian legislation because of declining numbers and key threats such as habitat loss and urban conflict.

Records indicate that grey-headed flying-foxes may once have numbered in the millions, but are now reduced to as few as 400,000. In the decade before listing, their population was estimated to have declined by 30%.

Loss of habitat is the main threat to grey-headed flying-foxes and is a key cause of their conflict with humans. Winter foraging is particularly affected by development in the NSW coastal floodplain areas. Habitat loss has meant grey-headed flying-foxes are more affected by extreme weather and years of native food scarcity, leading them to target urban gardens and commercial fruit orchards.

Flying-foxes have a very low breeding rate, with mothers giving birth to only one pup per year. This means flying-fox populations can only increase slowly. Pregnancy and lactation coincide with fruit harvesting, so shooting at this time can have a significant impact on the population.

The listing of grey-headed flying-foxes as vulnerable gives the species more protection and attention. It has changed the way licences to harm flying-foxes are issued in NSW and the way in which proposals for development applications that will impact on grey-headed flying-foxes are assessed.

The grey-headed flying-fox has also been listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.  See the Species Profile and Threats Database for more information on the Commonwealth listing of this threatened species.

Given the wide geographic range of this species and its ability to travel long distances, strategies to ensure its survival need to cross state boundaries. To promote its national survival a Draft recovery plan for the grey-headed flying-fox has been prepared.

How are population numbers assessed for grey-headed flying-foxes?

National flying-fox monitoring program

The national monitoring program  for the grey-headed flying-fox commenced on 14 February 2013. This is the biggest census of grey-headed flying-foxes ever undertaken across the species' entire national range. The aim of the census is to deliver a reliable benchmark on the current size of the grey-headed flying-fox population in 2013, and to monitor future population trends. All known grey-headed flying-fox camps are being visited and counted four times per year until 2017 using the CSIRO standardised methodology . The information collected will provide a better understanding of flying-fox populations and will be used to better manage community interactions with flying-foxes and improve conservation outcomes for this species.

What is being done to help the species?

As part of its Saving Our Species program OEH has identified strategies to support the survival of the grey-headed flying fox, ranging across habitat management, community education, monitoring, research and mapping.

Management strategies need to acknowledge that flying-fox roosting habitats will increasingly occur close to urban homes and include measures to minimise impacts to and from flying-foxes. Similarly, in times of food scarcity, flying-foxes will choose to eat the fruit in orchards rather than starve. Therefore, foraging habitats need to be protected and restored, and a greater understanding of food-source dynamics and the feeding trends of flying-foxes is required.

There are a number of documents and websites with more information, including the following:

To provide balanced public input into flying-fox management issues, the Department of Environment and Conservation established the NSW Flying-Fox Consultative Committee  in August 2001, shortly after the listing of the grey-headed flying-fox as a threatened species in NSW.

The following reports are specific to NSW and detail the locations and patterns of use of known grey-headed flying-fox camps and food sources.

The grey-headed flying-fox is a threatened species: it is listed as vulnerable to extinction in NSW under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and across Australia under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

All native species, including flying-foxes, are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

The grey-headed flying-fox is a threatened species: it is listed as vulnerable to extinction in NSW under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and across Australia under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

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Page last updated: 15 October 2015