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Living near flying-foxes

Flying-foxes concentrate in large camps or roosts, yet their ability to fly considerable distances in search of fruit and flowers often brings them into backyards and orchards. This creates the perception that flying-foxes are abundant and their long-term survival is not at risk.

Flying-foxes are threatened by their habitat being cleared and other disturbances that impact on their breeding success.

As their habitat disappears, other environmental factors begin to have greater impact. Poor flowering and fruiting brought on by drought, cyclones and unseasonably wet weather or fires can remove critical seasonal food sources.

Ongoing tree clearing and disturbance of maternal roosts reduces the number of available roosts. If this coincides with the flying-foxes' breeding season over a number of years, local extinctions could occur, ultimately leading to the extinction of some species.

Flying-fox neighbours

Living next door to 100,000 animals of any sort can be difficult when they are active and noisy at night, prone to smell, and eat the fruit from your trees.

Many thousands of people are neighbours with flying-fox roosts, particularly those of the black and grey-headed flying-foxes. The enormous roosts of little red flying-foxes may create problems for people but these are generally short-lived as they move on in search of new sources of nectar and fruit every one to two months.

While the first reaction to these problems is to get rid of the bats, there are things you can try, if you find yourself in this situation, to make life better.

Tips for living near flying-foxes

The survival of flying-foxes depends on our ability to live with them. From a public health perspective, in almost all circumstances there is no reason to be alarmed if a colony moves in nearby.

Queensland Health advises that there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of Hendra virus. 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 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.

For more information, visit Queensland Health or Biosecurity Queensland.

Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) can only be caught from untreated bites or scratches from infected bats. Two people have died from ABL caught from a flying-fox (there has also been an ABL death from a micro-bat). All four common species of flying-fox, and at least three species of insectivorous micro-bat, can carry ABL. Members of the public should not handle bats.

For more information on Australian Bat Lyssavirus and how to manage the risks if you have occupational contact with bats, visit Queensland Government and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (PDF).

Don't leave washing out 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 ‘bombed’ 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 subsequent stains, soak the item as soon as possible (preferably while the stain is still wet) in a good stain remover. Use bleach for white items. As any parent of a young child will know, some fruits with coloured flesh (e.g. mulberries) may leave a permanent stain.

Park your car under shelter

Claims that flying-fox droppings strip paint from cars and houses are part of the mythology surrounding these animals. If there is any truth to this it may be due to the droppings drying and peeling off a surface and, if the underlying paint is old, lifting off a patch of the surface paint with it.

Avoid disturbing roosts

Noise and smell are issues when a roost is located nearby, or temporarily moves into an area.

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.

Unfortunately, little can be done about the smell of a roost. The smell is not dirtiness but a way that flying-foxes communicate with each another.

In some circumstances, flying-fox roost management may be appropriate for a particular roost. Depending on a range of factors, the management may involve low impact activities, or more significant activities. Find out more about authorised flying-fox roost management.

Plant roost trees away from houses

To make roost trees on private land 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. Surveys of flying-fox roosts in New South Wales have shown that a distance of as little as 100 metres from neighbouring houses can be enough to reduce the noise level of a flying-fox roost to an acceptable level.

Net fruit trees

Damage to local fruit trees in backyards or orchards can be a problem. The best solution is to cover the trees in netting. This also protects the trees from bird, possum and rat attack, as well as wind and hail. Netting can even create a microclimate that may improve yield.

Using the right type of netting will protect fruit. Using the wrong type of netting, or badly erecting it, may also injure or kill native birds, flying-foxes and possums if they become entangled.

Find out more about netting backyard fruit trees.

Last reviewed
26 November 2015
Last updated
28 November 2013