- Colour: dark grey to brown body, with lighter grey fur on its head and golden-orange fur encircling its neck. Its wings are black.
- Distinctive feature: fur on its legs that extends to its ankles.
- Size: 23 cm to 29 cm (head and body length). Its wingspan is over one metre.
- Call: more than 30 different calls that are associated with specific behaviours; for example, mating, locating its young, defending its territory, and squabbling over food.
- Diet: a range of fruit, particularly figs, and also nectar and blossom from native trees. It crushes the fruit and flowers with its strong teeth, swallows the juice and some of the fruit but spits out the seeds. It feeds at night and prefers to eat close to where it roosts (resting upside down) but can travel up to 50 kilometres in search of food.
- Feeding groups vary from one to six or more in a single tree, and individuals will defend their feeding territory, returning to the same feeding ground each night until the food source is depleted.
- Movement: it spends much of its time in groups known as camps, hanging upside-down from the branches of trees. It leaves the camp at sunset to feed, returning in the early hours of the morning or at dawn. Grey-headed Flying-foxes show a regular pattern of seasonal movement with most of the population congregating in northern NSW and Queensland in May and June, where they feed on winter-flowering trees. They move depending on the climate and the flowering and fruiting patterns of their food sources.
- Breeding: it usually returns to the same camp each year to give birth and raise its young. Annual mating commences in January and continues over many months. Females give birth to a single live young in September to late November each year. The baby clings to its mother’s belly for the first three to six weeks until it becomes too heavy. Then it is left in a “crèche” in the camp while its mother looks for food at night. When she returns, she recognises her baby by its smell. The baby feeds on milk from its mother’s nipples until it is four months old when it starts to follow the adults each night and learns how to find its own food. The young are able to fly at about three months old (around January), and are able to feed independently when five to six months old.
What to Observe
- Young attached to mother
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
We expect bats to start appearing in new areas, or establishing permanent camps in areas where previously they were transient or seasonal, as warmer temperatures enable them to live and breed in environments that were previously too cold for them. This has already happened in the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens, with a permanent camp forming in the early 1980s.
When To Look
- From September through to April.
- At night, when they are feeding.
- Mating occurs between January and April.
- Young flying-foxes can be seen attached to their mother’s bellies from September to November.
Where To Look
- Within Australia, it is found within 200 kilometres of the eastern coast, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria. They are also occasionally found in Tasmania.
- Warm, moist habitats including subtropical and temperate rainforests, open forests, woodlands, swamps, mangroves, urban parks and near cultivated fruit crops, often beside a creek or water.
- For roosting sites in gullies, close to water, and in vegetation with a dense canopy. They commonly roost in trees in urban parks and in mangrove forests.
Conder, P 1994. With Wings on their Fingers. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Churchill, S 1998. Australian Bats. New Holland, Sydney.
Hall, LS and Richards, G 2000. Flying Foxes: Fruit and Blossom Bats of Australia. UNSW Press: Sydney.
Cawthen, L 2013, personal communication.
Another flying fox won't have leg fur, which extends to the ankle on the Grey-headed Flying-fox.
Did You Know?
Grey-headed Flying-foxes play a major role in the regeneration of native hardwood forests and rainforests by pollinating as they feed and dispersing seeds as they move throughout the forest. It is estimated that a single Flying-fox can disperse up to 60,000 seeds in one night!
It has large eyes which are highly adapted for seeing both during the day and at night, and particularly for recognising colours at night, which is important when searching for food.
Although they appear in large groups, numbers of Grey-headed Flying-foxes are declining, mainly due to habitat clearing or modification. They are now listed as threatened under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound
Listen to the Call