The Flying Foxes header picture, flying fox taking off

Bellingen Island is an excellent place to see and watch Greyheaded Flying foxes. Black Flying foxes can be seen here too, though in much smaller numbers, and occasionally Little Red Flying foxes visit.

Many hang low in the trees in this camp and are in clear view, and often they do not fly away as you approach.  They are less flighty here than in many camps because they have been treated well here by humans for a number of years.  They seem to know how they will be treated in different camps.  Thus they will stay to stare back at you here if you are quiet.  They are not much worried by your voice but the sound of snapping branches means danger in their language.  Slapping or clapping sounds are also alarming and usually send them off out of view.

The animals roosting near the picnic tables are most used to people.  If you stay here for a while, reasonably still and quiet, they will continue their normal activities while you watch.

EYESIGHT
You can expect them to take a great deal of interest in you, and stare a lot with their big bright eyes. Their daytime eyesight is about as good as yours, and in the dark they see very much better than you do.

WHY THEY DONíT STAND UP
And of course they will be hanging from their feet, head downwards. Their legs are like strong cords, with no bulky muscles, so they cannot stand. Such muscles would make them too heavy for flight. Birds are made lighter by having hollow bones, but flying foxes are mammals, and mammals have solid bones.

THEY ARE OUR COUSINS
They are mammals and from October to April you see them suckling their young. They do this until the baby is five or six months old, but this time varies - they are intelligent and complex so there are differences amongst them, just as there are amongst humans. In fact they are so biologically close to us that they could be classed as primates. We could regard them as close cousins, as we do monkeys.

THEY LIKE TO KEEP CLEAN
They groom frequently, licking and combing, like cats. Also, of course they are far too clever to dirty themselves with poo or pee.

BUSY DAYS BUT NIGHT TIME IS FOR EATING
Daytime is surprisingly busy for these animals that we usually think of as creatures of the night. You will see them fanning their wings to keep cool when it is hot, grooming, giving birth, tending young, mating, looking around, even flying around: all during daytime. However they will not be eating. Only once, when there was a terrible food shortage, have I seen a flying fox eating leaves during the daytime in the camp. The camp is the base from which they make their night time foraging trips. Then they prefer nectar and pollen of native trees and rainforest fruits.

Wee-ing

Where we have cleared away their native forests they are forced to resort to trees that humans plant for their own use. Records show that appearances of flying foxes in orchards coincide with times when bee keepers report poor availability of blossom in the forests. But they are animals which take opportunities Ė they enjoy the native shrubs and trees that we plant in our gardens.

Eating Grevillia

BABIES
Most babies are born in mid October after about six months gestation.  Their eyes are open and alert and they are covered in fur (except for their belly which is bare so they can get closer to mother’s warmth).  Baby is ready to find his way to mother’s nipple.  He will have been born while mother was hanging head downwards as usual but her wings make a safe hammock until he grasps the nipple with his teeth and mother’s belly fur with his feet.

mother and babyX

The mother will carry baby with her constantly for the first few weeks.  When he can keep himself warm she will leave him in the camp at night.  She leaves him in the spot where she has been roosting all day unless there has been danger in the area such as a lurking goanna.  During the day she will carry him around when she makes short flights within the camp, but she can also carry him long distances, even when he is two or three months old.  She needs to be able to do this because she needs to be able to move to wherever food can be found.  She will carry her baby to the next camp, then the next and the next, and can do this from the first night after the baby is born til the time when the baby can fly well enough to feed himself.  This will be later in January, at least. It is particularly enjoyable in late December and in January to watch the babies around the edges of the camp at dusk, practising their flying.

baby riding

Baby riding.  See mother’s nipple in her wingpit


NOMADS
The number of animals here is always changing.  In one rare season there were at least one hundred thousand here, but more usually there are about twenty or thirty thousand.  The camp has not been completely empty for years but sometimes the numbers drop very low.

These changes have nothing to do with the total number of flying foxes in Australia.  Simply, the animals follow food supplies so if we have large numbers here it is because local forests are in blossom with good food so animals have congregated here and other areas will be empty.  They can move great distances in surprisingly short times.  Recently an animal is known to have travelled from Sydney to Melbourne in one week.

The animals typically move from one traditional campsite to the next.  They appear to have long memories for these traditional sites and may even have their own territory in each one that they visit.  The females move about more than the males, generally

HEADING FOR EXTINCTION
In 2001 Greyheaded Flying foxes were classified as Vulnerable by both the federal and NSW Government.  Regular counts have shown that there are less than five hundred thousand Greys in existence and showed that the population dropped by 30% between 1990 and 2000. 

The population will always be limited by the food supply in their habitat, and we are constantly clearing their habitat because we like to live in the same places.  Loss of habitat is glaringly obvious in the NSW and Queensland coastal strips where there has been huge human settlement.

The fact that flying foxes are slow breeders, producing only one baby each year is not primarily relevant to the survival of the species because the habitat is the limiting factor.  No matter how many babies are produced in a year only the number that can be fed in their habitat will survive.  If you want to do something towards survival of the species, plant native feed trees.

 

 

 

 

Flying Fox Face

All photographs and text are subject to copyright Vivien Jones ©2000

E-mail: viv@bellingen.com
Phone: 02 6655 2213

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