Tawny Frogmouth

On 26 December 2012 a student visiting the Wetland pointed out a Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a low branch near the Learning Centre. It was gone the next day and we have not seen it since. A very exciting find indeed!

The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus Strigoides) is a large bird (34 to 54cm) which is found in all areas of Australia except in the treeless regions and in really dense rainforest. It may remain in the same area for years.

The Tawny Frogmouth is often mistaken for an owl because they are similar in colouring and both most active at night. They are often mistakenly called mopoke but this is incorrect - that being the common name for Southern Boobook Owl. There are five distinguishing differences between the Tawny Frogmouth and Owl.

  1. Bill: The Tawny Frogmouth has a wide gaping bill for catching prey in flight. It has forehead plumes thought to direct near misses back to the open bill in flight. The Owl has a narrow sharp bill for tearing prey apart.
  2. Food: The Tawny Frogmouth is almost completely insectivorous, caught with the bill. It hunts often in night lighting for attracted moths, hence often hit by car headlights. It is also frequently killed by cats/dogs as they fly to the ground. The Owl feeds on small mammals and sometimes birds - hence an owl can often be located by the incessant mobbing by small perching birds, particularly white-plumed honeyeaters up in the foliage.
  3. Toes and Talons: Both species are anisodactyl (having three toes pointing forward and one toe pointing backwards). The Tawny Frogmouth has slender weak toes for perching only, or may grab an insect on the ground with its toes. The Owl has thick, powerful talons to catch and kill prey.
  4. Hunting Method: Tawny Frogmouths sit silently and motionlessly on a branch or high post waiting for prey to appear. They have excellent sight: large eyes with a yellow iris, and very acute hearing. They dive silently to the ground catching centipedes, beetles and cockroaches. They silent flight is due to the fringed leading edge of the wing feathers. The Owl hunts mostly on the wing, using talons to catch prey. They do not have a fringed leading edge to the wing.
  5. Nesting: The Tawny Frogmouth nests on a horizontal fork of the tree, 5 to 10m high, commonly in eucalypt. The Owl favours nesting positions hidden up in dense foliage.

The Tawny Frogmouths mottled grey/brown plumage makes it so perfectly camouflaged during the day, that, along with its motionless posture, makes this bird incredibly hard to spot. Hence it is more often heard than seen. The male is larger, and the female has browner plumage. Its voice is a resonant, low pulsing oom, oom, oom, slow or rapid but it also growls cat-like sounds when alarmed and from frightened young. If a Tawny Frogmouth is alarmed it immediately tilts its head upward, slits its eyes and pretends to be a broken branch.

Tawny Frogmouths pair for life. They breed between August and December, lay two eggs and have one brood per year. The nest is a loose platform of sticks, lined with green leaves. Both sexes incubate for about 25 days: the male during the day and the female at night. The young fledge between 4 or 5 weeks.

The Tawny Frogmouth is more closely related to nightjars than to owls.