Living near flying-foxes
Flying-foxes are nocturnal—sleeping in trees throughout the day, flying out at dusk to search for food and returning to the trees again near dawn. The trees that flying-foxes sleep in and use for breeding are known as roosts.
In the past, urban communities were often shielded from the smell and noise of flying-fox roosts by the tracts of native forests and open spaces that separated the roosts from residential areas. In many cases, these forests and open spaces have become fragmented over time, as suburban backyards take their place. Flying-foxes now rely more heavily on remnant patches of trees within urban areas and suburban parks for roost sites. These roosts can spill over into residential areas and bring with them the nuisance impacts of noise, odour and mess.
With the loss of forest habitat continuing over many years, flying-foxes have also declined in numbers with the spectacled flying-fox listed as an endangered species under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and the grey-headed flying-fox listed as vulnerable under Commonwealth legislation.
The Department of Environment and Science is tasked with conserving flying-foxes but also recognises that there needs to be ways for communities and individual landowners to take action to manage roost sites if flying-foxes are having nuisance impacts on residents and their properties.
From a public health perspective, in almost all circumstances there is no reason to be alarmed if a colony of flying-foxes moves in nearby.
Catching diseases directly from flying-foxes is extremely unlikely. However, they are known to carry two life-threatening viruses—Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra virus.
Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) can only be caught from untreated bites or scratches from infected bats. If you don’t handle or come into contact with flying-foxes then there is no risk of contracting ABLV.
Members of the public should not handle bats.
Queensland Health advises that there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of Hendra virus. Previous testing of people who have come in contact with a person infected with the Hendra virus, including health care workers and family contacts, has shown no evidence of infection with the virus.
There is also no evidence that the virus can be passed directly from flying-foxes to humans, from the environment to humans, from humans to horses, or that it is airborne.
To be safe: do not touch a flying-fox and do not put yourself in a position where a flying-fox can bite or scratch you. If you are scratched or bitten by a flying-fox consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Flying-foxes may establish seasonal roosts to take advantage of increased flowering and fruiting of trees in the surrounding area. For example, large numbers of the highly nomadic little red flying-fox may settle temporarily at a site and only stay as long as sufficient food is available in the area. Arriving in large numbers (sometimes as many as 300,000) the little reds will cluster in ‘clumps’ on every roosting branch, stripping them of leaves and even snapping them off under their combined weight. When little reds arrive in an area they will often join other flying-fox species at an existing roost.
If more flying-foxes move into a roost site, the roost will expand and spillover into trees on neighbouring land. If that land is residential land, or has a sensitive use, such as a kindergarten, their nuisance impacts may need to be managed. In many cases these roost expansions only last a few weeks, and the flying-foxes will move on when fruiting or flowering events in the surrounding area come to an end.
Just as the influx of large numbers of little red flying-foxes can come as a surprise, the day will come when they disappear and move on to their next food source. But while there is a source of food keeping them there, you can take a few simple steps to reduce the impact.
Tips for living near flying-foxes
While the first reaction to having a large number of flying-foxes roost in your neighbourhood may be to get rid of them, any action you take needs to factor in some understanding of flying-fox behaviour and why they have chosen to roost there. This can also help you to plan ahead so you can better manage the next ‘flying-fox season’.
Bring your washing in at night
Flying-foxes are active at night. If you take your washing inside at night, you won’t have to worry about it being splattered with droppings when flying-foxes fly over. If washing is left out overnight, think about putting up old sheets or a shower curtain on the outside lines of your clothes hoist to protect it.
To remove stains, soak the item as soon as possible (preferably while the stain is still wet) using a good quality stain remover. Use bleach for white items.
Park your car under shelter
There have been cases where flying-fox droppings left to dry on the body of a car has stripped a layer of paint from the surface. This is more likely to occur if the paint is old or already cracked and peeling. Parking your car under a carport or using a car cover can prevent this from happening.
If there are flying-fox droppings on your car and you are concerned it may cause damage, soaking them with a damp cloth or hosing it with water will make it easier to wipe off.
Avoid disturbing roosts
When flying-foxes are stressed or frightened, they make more noise. Flying-foxes at roosts tend to be noisier when they are being disturbed by people and least noisy when they are left alone.
Unfortunately, little can be done about the smell of a roost. The smell is not from the flying-foxes being unclean but is largely due to the scent that the males produce to identify themselves and mark their territories.
Net fruit trees
Damage to fruit trees in backyards or orchards can sometimes be a problem. The best solution is to cover the trees in netting. This also protects the trees from birds, possums and rats, as well as wind and hail. Netting can even create a microclimate that may improve yield.
Using the right type of netting—white or pale netting with a maximum mesh size of 5mm x 5mm at full stretch— will protect fruit without harming wildlife. Using the wrong type of netting, or erecting it poorly, may injure or kill native birds, flying-foxes and possums if they become entangled.
What residents can do to manage roosts on private land
While flying-foxes, and their roosts are protected under Queensland’s conservation laws, those laws also allow property owners to take action to reduce the nuisance impacts of flying-foxes at roosts.
Should flying-foxes arrive in trees on your land and continue to return and stay during the daytime, there are lawful actions you can take to deter them. These actions must not harm or kill the animals.
Any landholder may undertake low impact management activities on their own property that comply with the ‘Code of practice—Low impact activities affecting flying-fox roosts’. Low impact activities are mulching, mowing, watering, or weeding under or near roost trees, minor trimming of roost trees, and installation, maintenance and removal of infrastructure (such as a fence or shed). The Low Impact Code includes requirements that prevent trees from being trimmed when there are flying-foxes near (e.g. within 10 metres of) the trimming.
Trimming tree branches that are close to houses, swimming pools and high use areas can also remove roosting positions where flying-foxes are having the greatest impact and can be very effective in reducing these impacts on residents and businesses. However, the removal of a branch while flying-foxes are roosting in the tree is not allowed. In case it causes injury or harm, trimming may need to be carried out after dusk when the flying-foxes have left and branches are unoccupied. In some cases, flying-fox mothers may leave their young behind at night while they go to feed (known as ‘crèching’). If that is the case for trees on your land it is vital to delay starting deterrence activities (which could prevent the mothers returning to feed their babies, leaving them to starve) until the crèching period has ended.
Under the low impact code, trimming up to 10% of the crown of the tree in any given 12-month period is allowed. In some cases, a private landholder may be able to carry out more extensive trimming of individual trees (e.g. where a seasonal increase in flying-foxes causes a roost to expand on to private land), but it is important to contact the Department of Environment and Science to discuss whether this is allowed. If you wish to trim more than 10% of any tree at or near a roost, contact the Department on 1300 130 372 and select option 1.
Private landholders and organisations such as schools and body corporates may also apply to the Department for a Flying Roost Management Permit (FFRMP) to undertake direct management of flying-fox roosts on their properties (See Authorised flying-fox management). An FFRMP holder is authorised to take a range of measures, including destroying all or part of a roost, dispersing the roost (using sound, smoke or light), or ‘nudging’ the roost (e.g. using lights or water sprinklers to create a buffer or modifying part of the roost by tree trimming or removal) to discourage the animals from roosting in a particular area.
Plant roost trees away from houses
Over time, a roost may be encouraged to move by planting roost trees in locations that are away from houses. Surveys of flying-fox roosts in New South Wales have shown that increasing the distance of a roost by as little as 100 metres from neighbouring houses, can reduce the noise from a flying-fox roost to an acceptable background level.
Plan ahead to manage flying-fox season
It’s important to think about managing flying-foxes as a natural seasonal event, like ‘the wet season’. ‘Flying-fox season’ is managed more effectively by the actions you take before the flying-foxes arrive and after they’ve gone rather than trying to deal with the problem head-on while the flying-foxes are there. This approach can be especially effective if you live near a regularly occupied roost which may undergo seasonal expansions.
Be prepared: trim trees, remind neighbours to get their properties ready by removing roosting branches from trees and covering or removing fruit. If a nearby roost is present on council land, talk to the local council about tree trimming on neighbouring parks. Your local council may also have easements and management actions planned or in place that could help you.
Respond to the arrival of roost: if you have taken steps to make your property less suitable as a roosting site and covered your car and other items, then you may be able to wait them out. If your council and neighbours have done the same, the main roost is less likely to spill over on to your property and the flying-foxes may even choose another site. This is also a time to watch where the flying-foxes are still roosting and what further trimming you may need to do in the future.
Recovery: this can involve tidying up after the flying-foxes have gone by cleaning or replacing anything that was damaged.
Mitigation: this is the time to make any improvements to your house and garden that will discourage the flying-foxes from returning and lessen the impact of those that do. This may include cleaning your roof and water tanks, installing first flush diverters to safeguard your water supply or installing an air conditioner. If you live on a large block, you may wish to consider planting new trees further away from your home, so that in future years any flying-foxes that do arrive might settle further from your home. This is also when you should talk to your council, if the roost also occurs on council land, to see how they can help you.