Grey-headed flying foxes have been coming to Melbourne for more than 100 years. Numbers have been increasing due to a loss of habitat in New South Wales and Queensland and the creation of a reliable food supply here.
Increased plantings of native trees over the last 30 years and year-round irrigation have made Melbourne and some areas of Victoria more attractive to these animals.
Grey-headed flying foxes have established a number of permanently occupied colonies in Victoria. Along with Yarra Bend Park, the Geelong and Bendigo colonies are home to flying foxes year-round. Other colonies are seasonally occupied, with flying foxes leaving the area over winter.
2003 Yarra Bend Relocation Project
In 1986 a colony of Grey-headed flying foxes took up permanent residence in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Up to 6,000 individuals roosted in the gardens year-round, increasing to 20,000 during the breeding season.
In 2002 the Grey-headed flying fox colony was distributed over approximately 30 per cent of the Royal Botanic Gardens and was damaging heritage-listed vegetation.
Particular areas, such as Fern Gully and surrounding trees, could not withstand the stress of continual use by large numbers of flying foxes which stripped branches of their leaves and killed some trees.
Grey-headed flying foxes will always be attracted to Melbourne because of the high quality of food resources it provides. A long-term, sustainable plan for the flying fox colony was developed to protect the Royal Botanic Garden's historic plantings while providing an acceptable campsite for the flying foxes.
In March 2003 a large-scale dispersal program was successful in relocating the colony to a more suitable location at Yarra Bend Park, Kew. The criteria used in assessing the suitability of sites were:
- distance from the Royal Botanic Gardens
- amount of shelter available
- the structure of overstorey vegetation
- the understorey microclimate
- size of the area
- potential for expansion
- impact on and distance from human use
- current site use
- services available to the site
The Grey-headed flying fox colony established at Yarra Bend Park in Kew can be seen from the Bellbird Picnic area, off the Yarra Bend Boulevard (Melway reference Map 2D K6).
There are excellent views from Yarra Boulevard, looking out over the colony and towards the city skyline.
Over summer, the colony can swell to over 30,000 individuals including young, but during winter the population of flying foxes falls to around 6,000 individuals.
As part of the 2003 relocation project, funding was provided to prepare and implement a management plan for the colony.
The flying foxes cannot be viewed from the golf course itself. People are asked not to walk through the golf course as this will disrupt people's golf game and could disturb the colony. The best views are from the Yarra Boulevard side of the park.
People are encouraged to watch and appreciate the flying foxes, but the animals must not be disturbed.
Parks Victoria rangers and DELWP wildlife officers frequently patrol Yarra Bend Park.
Eastern Park in Geelong has a permanent established colony of Grey-headed flying foxes, with numbers ranging between several hundred to 5,000 over winter, and rising up to 15,000 over summer.
Managed by the City of Greater Geelong, a management plan and revegetation program is in place in the park. Implementation of the plan will ensure there is suitable roosting habitat for the flying foxes into the future.
The Grey-headed flying fox camp at Rosalind Park is the most recent to establish as a permanent colony in Victoria.
Individuals were first detected in March 2010, with a major increase of flying foxes in the fernery section of the park. In that year the population rose to around 32,000 animals.
Since then the Bendigo colony size has reduced and now ranges from around 200 individuals in winter to around 2,000 in summer.
The camp has also been confirmed as a maternity camp where breeding and birthing of young is occurring.
Seasonal camps are located in Bairnsdale and Mallacoota.
Flying foxes often appear in large numbers over the summer period, but then migrate elsewhere as the colder winter weather arrives.
Up to 26,000 flying foxes have been documented over the summer period at the Bairnsdale camp along Riverine Street. Occasionally large colonies are recorded temporarily in other parts of Victoria.