Tawny Frogmouth

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Common Name: Tawny Frogmouth
Scientific Name: Podargus strigoides

Size: 13.4-20.9 inches (34-53 cm); Wingspan: 25.6-38.6 inches (65-98 cm) Habitat: Oceania; The whole of mainland Australia, Tasmania and several of the largest offshore islands.

Frogmouths are found in almost any habitat type including forests and woodlands, scrub and heath-land vegetation, and savannas. However, they do not occur in heavy rain forests and treeless deserts.They are seen in large numbers in areas that are populated with many river gums and casuarinas and can be found along river courses if these areas are timbered.Tawny frogmouths are common in suburbs, having adapted to human presence. They have been reported nesting in parks and gardens with trees.

Status: Least Concern to Near Threatened. Global population: Unknown amount of adult individuals with a stable population trend, although southern and western Australia have seen declining populations. Tawny frogmouths face a number of threats from human activities and pets. Tawny frogmouths are often killed or injured on rural roads during feeding as they fly in front of cars when chasing insects illuminated in the beam of the headlights. Large scale land clearing of eucalyptus trees and intense bush fires are serious threats to tawny frogmouth populations as they tend not to move to other areas if their homes are destroyed. Household cats are the most significant introduced predator of the tawny frogmouth, however dogs and foxes are known to also occasionally kill the birds. When tawny frogmouths pounce to catch prey on the ground, they are slow to return to flight and vulnerable to attack from these predators. As they have adapted to live in close proximity to human populations, tawny frogmouths are at high risk of exposure to pesticides. Continued widespread use of insecticides and rodent poisons are hazardous as they remain in the system of the target animal and can be fatal to a tawny frogmouth that eats them.

Diet: Mainly insects, arthropods, spiders, frogs, and sometimes small mammals. Prey is caught both on the ground and in the air with their large bills. All frogmouths are nocturnal.

One of the best examples of cryptic plumage and mimicry in Australian birds is seen in this frogmouth who perches low on tree branches during the day, camouflaged as part of the tree. Their plumage patterned with white, black, and brown streaks and mottles allows them to freeze into the form of a broken tree branch and become practically invisible in broad daylight.The tawny frogmouth will often choose a broken part of a tree branch and perch upon it with its head thrust upwards at an acute angle using its very large, broad beak to emphases the resemblance. Often a pair will sit together and point their heads upwards, only breaking cover if approached closely to take flight or warn off predators. During daylight hours, healthy tawny frogmouths generally do not actively look for food though they may sit with their mouths open, snapping it shut when an insect enters. When threatened, adult tawny frogmouths will make an alarm call that signals to chicks to remain silent and immobile ensuring that the natural camouflage provided by the plumage is not broken.

Nesting: A medium to large frogmouth, pale gray and heavily streaked and mottled with darker charcoal gray. Upper parts generally dark with forehead and crown heavily streaked dark gray, with the sides for the head pale gray. Long feathery bristles above the base of the bill form a crest-like tuft in the mid-line. Back, wings and upper tail mottled dark and light gray with white spots on primaries. Under parts are pale gray with finely streaked dark gray. Under wings are very pale gray with indistinct darker gray on primaries. The iris is yellow. The bill is blue-gray, slightly hooked, feathered to the tip, and extremely broad with a huge gape. Legs and feet are blue-gray.

Tawny frogmouths have three distinct color morphs, gray being the most common in both sexes. Males of this morph have silver-gray upper parts with black streaks and slightly paler underparts with white barring and brown to rufous mottling. Females of this morph are often darker with more rufous mottling. Females of the subspecies P. s. strigoides have a chestnut morph and females of the subspecies P. s. phalaenoides have a rufous morph. Leucistic or albinistic all-white aberrant plumage for this species has also been documented.

Tawny frogmouths form partnerships for life and once established, pairs will usually stay in the same territory for a decade or more. Establishing and maintaining physical contact is an integral part of the lifelong bond. During breeding season, tawny frogmouth pairs roost closely together on the same branch, often with their bodies touching. The male will carry out grooming by gently stroking through the plumage of the female with his beak in sessions that can last for ten minutes or more.

Breeding season is August to December. The nest is a flimsy platform of small sticks, usually built on the fork of a horizontal branch, but also in vertical forks, on top of grass trees, at the entrance to a hollow, and on the old nests of other birds. Frogmouths lay 1 to 4 white, oval, slightly glossy eggs, which are incubated for about 30 days. The chicks fledge in 25-35 days.

Cool Facts: When is an owl not an owl? When it is a Tawny Frogmouth. There are other species of Frogmouths and Nightjars that are often confused with owls, but the Tawny Frogmouth is the one most commonly mistaken for an Owl.

The typical call is a deep, resonant and ventriloquial oom-oom-oom-oom-oom and a frequency of about eight calls in five seconds, with each oom lasting about half a second and given in bursts of up to 30 seconds.

During winter, tawny frogmouths choose northerly oriented positions on branches that are more exposed to sunlight in order to increase body heat. A pair roosting and huddling to share body warmth is also common during winter months. During daylight hours, tawny frogmouths sometimes perch on the ground to sunbathe, remaining motionless for up to five minutes. During this time, the birds open their beaks wide, close their eyes, and move their head to the side to allow sunrays to penetrate beneath the thick layer of feathers.

There are 3 subspecies of Tawny Frogmouth:

  • P. s. phalaenoides. It is found throughout Northern Australia southwards to the Great Sandy Desert, Barkly Tableland, and the Gulf of Carpenteria in Queensland.
  • P. s. brachypterus. It is found in Western Australia northwards to the Great Sandy Desert, north-eastwards to the Channel Country of Queensland, and south-eastwards to the Murray Mallee in Victoria.
  • P. s. strigoides, first reported by John Latham in 1801. The nominate species is found in Eastern and South Eastern Australia from north of Cooktown, westwards to the inland fringes of the Great Dividing Range, and in Tasmania.

Found in Songbird ReMix Frogmouths, Nightjars & Goatsuckers

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