Flying-foxes are increasingly roosting in camps near towns. As a result, residents can have concerns about the impacts of flying-foxes on their day-to-day lives.
Living near a flying-fox camp
A flying-fox camp is a patch of trees that flying-foxes are found in during the day. Living near these camps can sometimes be a problem, but there are ways to minimise the disturbance camps can cause.
Health and handling
Human infections with viruses borne by flying-foxes are very rare. There is no risk of infection 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.
Distress and sleep deprivation
Flying-foxes can cause some people to become distressed and suffer sleep deprivation. People suffering these symptoms should seek appropriate advice from a health service.
Other impacts and how to manage them
Noise can be an issue when a flying-fox camp is near residential and business areas or schools. Noise from a camp can increase as the flying-foxes leave the camp around dusk and is particularly problematic when they return to the camp in the early hours of the morning.
When flying-foxes are disturbed during the day the noise from the camp may also increase.
If you are experiencing noise disturbance, you could consider sound-proofing your home by retrofitting existing windows with double-glazing. You could also think about using air conditioning to provide air flow and cooling when you have closed windows to minimise noise.
You may have an individual or small group of flying-foxes feeding from fruiting or flowering trees and shrubs, including palm trees, at night. This may continue until the fruit or nectar is finished.
If you don’t want flying-foxes feeding in your backyard, you could remove the fruit manually or net the tree with wildlife-friendly netting to make access for the flying-foxes difficult.
Some people choose to remove the trees that attract the flying-foxes. Check with your local council about tree removal guidelines and procedures.
People have different sensitivities to smells and some people may find the smell of a flying-fox camp difficult to live with. While the odour is not a direct risk to human health, it can impact on some people’s mental health.
The main smell associated with flying-foxes is the scent male flying-foxes use to mark their territory. The smell is usually at its strongest during hot, humid, still or low-wind days.
While rain will wash away the smell, unfortunately the males then re-apply their scent, so it is sometimes strongest after rain.
Inside your home
If you are impacted by flying-fox odour you should close all windows and doors although this can be a problem on hot days. You could think about using air-conditioning or ceiling fans to provide recirculated air flow and cooling.
Seal all gaps under doors, around windows, air vents and chimney entrances. You could make sure that at least one room is well sealed if you need some relief from the smell.
Some people find scented deodorisers helpful.
Flying-foxes excrete in trees and during flight. If your house is in the flight path of flying-foxes, droppings may have an impact.
Flying-fox droppings are no different to other animal droppings. Avoid direct handling.
Health risks from flying-fox droppings are mainly the small risk of gastrointestinal or lung diseases.
Drying washing outside
Flying-foxes are most likely to fly over when leaving their camp in the evening or returning in the morning. Washing should therefore be brought in before sunset to avoid droppings stains.
You could also cover your washing with a clothesline cover or old sheets or a shower curtain. Using a clothes dryer will eliminate the need to dry washing outside.
To remove flying-fox droppings from your washing, use a stain remover and soak the stained washing as soon as possible.
Unfortunately some fruit with strong-coloured flesh, like mulberries, can leave a permanent stain.
Outdoor surfaces, cars and paintwork
If there are only a few droppings, clean with soap and water. Be careful when cleaning dried droppings to avoid creating airborne dust.
To clean up small areas of moist or dry flying-fox droppings on buildings, lawns and other surfaces:
- wear disposable gloves and a mask
- soak or spray the droppings using a low-pressure water spray
- wipe up droppings using a sponge or rag
- if needed, clean the area again with a soapy water solution
- put gloves and rags in a rubbish bag and seal
- wash hands with warm soapy water after the clean-up is finished.
Larger and tougher areas like driveways or paths can be cleaned with a high-pressure hose.
Some residents have reported that flying-fox droppings damage paintwork on cars, houses and garden furniture. This may happen when the droppings dry and peel off a surface, lifting off a patch of the surface paint with it. Removing droppings regularly with soapy water is the best solution.
The best way to protect your belongings is to store them under cover, especially during the night. A car cover may be useful for protecting your car if you don’t have a carport or garage. You could also install a shade sail or marquee to protect outdoor living spaces.
Droppings from many animals, including flying-foxes, may end up on roofs. These contaminants can then be washed into rainwater tanks when it rains. NSW Health recommends against drinking water from rainwater tanks if there is public drinking water available.
If you do collect rainwater for drinking, first-flush diverters that clear contaminants before clean water is collected in the tank should be installed. Inlets and outlets on rainwater tanks should also be screened and the tank covered with a roof structure. Rainwater tanks should be periodically de-sludged. Water in the tank can be chlorinated to disinfect it, or can be boiled and allowed to cool before use.
Visit NSW health about safely managing rainwater for drinking purposes where there is no alternative supply.
Normal pool maintenance like skimming, vacuuming, filtration and chlorination should remove any contamination from wildlife droppings.
Swimming pools can also be protected with a pool cover.
Waterways and catchments
The water quality in any natural waterway can fluctuate quickly. A creek, stream or river may contain bacteria from many sources that can be harmful to health if the water is consumed. It is not safe to drink water directly from natural waterways.
There is no evidence that a flying-fox camp has any impact on publicly available drinking water provided by local authorities. The water is treated, and this eliminates any contamination from additional flying-fox droppings in the catchment.
Schools near flying-fox camps must encourage students to stay away from flying-foxes, their droppings and urine.
Some schools near flying-fox camps have a morning check to ensure no injured or dead flying-foxes are in the school grounds before children arrive. It would be very unlikely for an injured flying-fox to arrive during the school day.
Droppings on outdoor furniture and play equipment should be washed down with a high-pressure hose or warm water. If possible, portable items should be stored inside or under cover before dusk to avoid flying-fox droppings.
Sandpits should be raked regularly and covered when not in use to avoid contamination from a range of animals.
Flying-foxes roosting at the same site for an extended period can damage leaves, bark and branches. As long as the trees are alive, leaves typically regrow once the flying-foxes have left the site. On some trees, it can result in permanent denudation and may require management.
On rare occasions, large numbers of animals roosting can cause tree branches to become unsafe and this may mean removing or trimming the branches. An arborist will be able to tell you if the trees are unsafe.
When flying-foxes feed on fruit and blossoms, damage to tree branches and foliage, as well as to fruit and buds, can occur. Removing the flowers or fruit, or netting flowers or fruit with wildlife-friendly netting will protect the tree and also reduce flying-fox visits.
The wrong type of netting can be deadly to wildlife. Most fatal injuries to flying-foxes and other animals are caused by thin, dark-coloured nylon netting draped loosely over trees.
To avoid wildlife being trapped or hurt in your nets, wildlife-friendly netting is recommended:
- Never use thin nylon (monofilament) netting material as this can cause serious injuries
- Use durable knitted netting that you can't poke your finger through
- Use white netting so wildlife can see and avoid it.
- Never throw netting loosely over trees as this can lead to entanglement, injury or death.
- Use netting that is stretched taut and held away from the tree, or 2mm woven-mesh box-shaped nets with long skirts that gather around the trunk of the tree. An alternative is to drape shade cloth over fruit.
- Regularly check that netting is secure, and that no wildlife has been trapped or hurt.
If an animal is found trapped in your nets, call your local wildlife rehabilitation organisation.
To avoid being bitten or scratched, don’t try to handle trapped flying-foxes.
Visit Protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage for information about flying-foxes and commercial crops.
Although there is concern that flying-fox camps displace other animals, there is no evidence that other animals can’t cohabit with flying-foxes.
In many flying-fox camps, birds are known to roost and even build nests within the camp.
Cats and dogs occasionally catch flying-foxes. If possible, pets should be kept away from them.
No cat or dog has ever been known to contract Australian bat lyssavirus from a flying-fox. There may still be a risk, but the best available evidence suggests there is no need to vaccinate pets against the virus.
One dog in Queensland has been infected with Hendra virus. It is more likely that the infection was transmitted from an infected horse than directly from a flying-fox.
If a pet does become sick after contact with a flying-fox, contact your local vet.