Yarra Bend - Flying Foxes
The Grey-headed flying foxes (also called fruit bats) stay in the Yarra Bend Park close to Melbourne year around as a permanent colony. The Colony numbers fluctuate with the seasons, and there are usually more flying-foxes in summer (December until April) and fewer in winter. During summer the colony grows immense up to 30.000 to 50.000 bats. Continue reading to figure out the best time of the day and what else to do in Yarra Bend.
Time of Day
During daytime, they roost upside down in the trees nearby the water. They are vulnerable to overheating; therefore, they choose this area because of the higher humidity and the colder air. Another reason, they need to drink water on hot days, so they stay close to a water source such as the Yarra River.
Close to the Bellbird Picnic Area, you can find a viewing platform. The bat colony walking trail and interpretive signage provides details about the flying‐foxes. You can observe them from different stops along the Bat Colony Trail. Although some of them are very close to the path, you should either take a binocular or a good zoom camera with you. The young flying-foxes often roost high up in the trees; the elder flying foxes are more experienced using the shadow of the trees at lower places.
Flying-foxes are nocturnal and at sunset, they will fly-out to consume nectar, fruit, and pollen from a wide range of plant species. Typically they start flying out together if it becomes dark, which is a spectacular scenery. Preferably a day with a blue sky during daytime and nice sundown will allow the perfect experience. You may have to wait sometime after sunset before they start to fly out and taking photos will become more difficult due to low light.
The Grey-headed Flying-fox is the largest member of the flying-fox family and is the only species permanent to southern Victoria. They are the second largest species of bats in Australia and can weigh up to 1.1 kg with a wing-span of over 1 m. They are playing a significant role in the regeneration of native forests by pollinating trees and dispersing seeds as they move between trees and forests. A single flying-fox can disperse up to 60,000 seeds in one night.
Until the early 1980s, they were only occasional seen in Melbourne. Over the winter of 1986, a few individuals stayed in The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and established the first permanent colony in Melbourne. Until 2002 the colony occupied over 30% with up to 20.000-30.000 individuals of the Royal Botanic Gardens and was damaging heritage-listed vegetation.
The establishment and growth of the colony in Melbourne is probably due to some factors:
- Melbourne’s temperature has risen at least 1.13°C over the past 20 years, with fewer frosts. As Flying-foxes are a sub-tropical species, the warmer temperatures in recent years are more suited for them.
- Before European settlement, the Melbourne region had only 13 species of plants that are eaten by grey-headed flying-foxes. Due to extensive tree planting in the last 50 years, the number of food sources raised to 87 species and shrubs.
To protect the Royal Botanic Gardens a project to relocated them to an appropriate area was initiated. In March 2003 the project was successfully finalized, and the flying-foxes had a new home at Yarra Bend Park.
Please do not approach flying-foxes or attempt to touch them yourself. A small percentage of flying-foxes carry Australian Bat Lyssavirus, which is similar to rabies.
- March and April; During the mating season, the colony can become very noisy as the males defend their territories. At the same time, the park can smell more intense due to the secretions from the male scent glands at his shoulders. He rubs this "perfume" on branches to mark the territory. After rainfall, the smell can become even stronger.
- After becoming pregnant, the female fly north towards Queensland and only the older flying-foxes stay in Yarra Bend Park. The population then drops down to 5.000 - 10.000.
- Late September to November; Pregnant females give birth and the number of individuals in the Park increases again. The mother carries the young babies for 4-5 weeks until they become too heavy. Then they will leave in the outlying trees of the colony to wait for her mother returning at dawn. At around 8-10 weeks they start to fly and can feed independently by about 12 weeks.
About the Park
Yara Bend covers 260 hectares from which half of it is bushland. One can find here a great variety of landscapes. Yarra Bend was combined with several other parks into one large area in 1929 after it was reserved in 1877. Roughly 1.3 million visitors come here each year enjoying the wide variety of activities. Beside the Studley Park Boathouse offering fine dining, four picnic areas are available in the Park, all with BBQ possibilities.
Yarra River in the Yarra Bend Park
Yarra Bend Park is the largest area of natural bushland close to Melbourne. Beside the flying-foxes you can find steep river escarpments, open woodlands, playing fields and golf courses. Walking, boating, canoeing, team sports, golf, picnicking, bird watching are popular activities in the park. The walking trails are easy to moderate, and you can choose from 5 different trails:
- Bat Colony Nature Trail – 500 m, 20 minutes return
- Bushland Circuit Trail – 850 m, 25 minutes return
- Dights Falls Trail – 3.2 km, 1 hours return
- Westfield Extension of Dights Falls Trail – 6.3 km, 2 hours circuit
- Andrews Reserve Trail – 2.4 km, max. 1.5 hours return
Picnic facilities are available at:
- Bellbird Picnic Area
- Studley Park Picnic Area
- Loop Road Picnic Areas
- Westfield Picnic Area