Tawny Frogmouth

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Two tawny frogmouths blending in with the tree branch.

The tawny frogmouth is often mistaken for the southern boobook owl (or mopoke) but it is actually related to the nightjar family. It’s a native to Australia and can be found all over the country including suburban gardens and parks.

This large bird with a big head and stocky build has big yellowy orange eyes and silver grey plumage patterned with white, black and brown streaks and mottles which allows them to become almost invisible in broad daylight as they blend in with the tree branches they are perched on.

An adult and a baby tawny frogmouth enjoying a peaceful summer afternoon.
An adult and a baby tawny frogmouth enjoying a peaceful summer afternoon.

Tawny frogmouths pair for life and the pair will stay in the same territory for over a decade. The size of their territory ranges from 40 to 80 hectares (100 to 200 acres). Both the males and females help build the nest, share the incubation of the eggs (usually only two), and both feed the young.

The bird is nocturnal and during the day you will find it perched on a tree branch camouflaged as part of the tree. In fact, their camouflage is so good that you might not even realise it’s there until it moves giving away its position. Here is a photo I took of some visiting tawny frogmouths recently. Two of the birds are obvious, but can you spot the third one?

Can you find all three tawny frogmouths in this photo?
Can you find all three tawny frogmouths in this photo?

During daylight hours, the tawny frogmouth doesn’t actively search for food, however, it often sits on its perch with its mouth open and snaps its beak shut when an insect flies in. Here is a video I took of an adult tawny frogmouth with its young one having a good old stretch of its wings. The adult is perched with its beak open waiting for insects.

Of a night, the bird will eat nocturnal insects, moths, spiders, cockroaches, centipedes, worms, slugs, snails, mice, reptiles, frogs, and sometimes even small birds.

Tawny frogmouths catch flying insects in mid air and unfortunately many are killed by being hit by a car while chasing insects in the beams of car headlights. Despite this, their conservation status is secure and are still a common bird.

For land prey, the tawny frogmouth uses its beak to catch food because it doesn’t have the strong feet and talons like owls do. The bird pounces on its prey from an elevated perch such as a tree branch, road sign or fence. Once caught, the prey is then bashed forcefully against a tree to kill it and then consumed.

Here are a few photos I’ve taken showing some classic traits of the tawny frogmouth.

Blending in and beak open catching insects
Blending in and beak open catching insects
In classic pose with head tilted up
In classic pose with head tilted up
Good camouflage
Good camouflage

Here is a video I took recently of  a tawny frogmouth in a tree looking around and having a scratch. It’s difficult to see as it was perched in an awkward position to get a decent view. I do love the end of the video when the bird turns to look right at me!

At night, theses birds emit a deep and continuous “oom-oom-oom” sound, and when threatened, they can make a loud hissing sound and also make clacking noises with their beak. Here is a video I took recently of an adult tawny frogmouth with its young perched on a tree branch one afternoon and they get swooped by a currawong. Notice the behaviour of the adult in its response to the threat. Sorry but there is no audio with this video as I filmed it from inside the house so we can’t hear what sounds they are making.

Here is a video I took showing all three tawny frogmouths just being themselves. I love the baby’s little head bobble! (Sorry, no audio with this one either.)

It was a rare treat to see these tawny frogmouths around our place as we had never seen them here before, and I hope it means we will be seeing more of them. After all, they are excellent pest controls!!

A tawny frogmouth silhouetted against the setting summer sun.
A tawny frogmouth silhouetted against the setting summer sun.