Scientific Name – Podargus strigoides
Conservation Status – Least Concern
Tawny frogmouths look exactly like a tree branch. They still for the most of the day and by using this camouflage to avoid predators. They have brown feathers with black streaks through the coat. The underside is a paler grey with white stripes through it. The tail is brown with white spots across it on top while the base of the tail is the same as the body. Some albino frogmouths have been recorded. Their wide bill is coloured olive grey to black. The inside of the mouth is yellow. Their eyes face forward and are large yellow circles resembling those of an owl.
From head to tail they measure between 34 and 53cm (13-21in). Weight can range up to 680kg with a mean weight being 354g for males and 297g for females.
Wild and captive tawny frogmouths are known to live up to 14 years old.
The tawny frogmouth is a carnivorous species. They feed upon nocturnal insects, worms, slugs and snails. The majority of their food is acquired by sitting still and waiting for insects to fly into their open mouth. They are attracted to the beak as the inside is yellow.
In some cases they will hunt bugs flying around lights and also prey on small mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs.
Tawny frogmouths are sometimes injured when they collide with cars because they are chasing bugs caught in the headlights.
Australia is the native home of the tawny frogmouth. They are found across the mainland and in Tasmania. Western Queensland, the Nullarbor Plain and the central Northern Territory are the only areas where they are absent.
This means they live in a wide number of habitats such as alpine woodland, timbered watercourses, woodlands, rainforest margins, eucalypt forest, coastal tea tree, savannah and alpine woodland. Most of these areas host a number of casuarina and river gum trees which is their favoured habitat. They will also commonly nest in parks and gardens.
A pair of tawny frogmouths remain together for life. They will maintain a territory together for over a decade. Breeding occurs between August and December in most areas though in arid areas it occurs in response to heavy rains. At this time the pair roost close together and the male gently grooms the plumage of the female with his beak.
The pair work together to collect twigs and leaves that they use to form a nest. This will be placed on a horizontal fork in a tree. Grass stems are used to soften the centre.
A clutch of one to three eggs is deposited into the nest by the female. During the day the male sits on them and then over night the female will assist him. They only leave rarely over this period. One partner supplies food to the other who is sitting on the eggs.
Both parents work to provide food to the chicks. In November they will begin to fly and by December their parents are sending them out on their own.
Sexually maturity is achieved at 1 year old for tawny frogmouths.
Tawny frogmouths are not active for most of the day. Their day is spent on a branch aiming to look like a tree. They will almost never move out of this position. This means they are a nocturnal species. Most of their activity is catching bugs but they won’t generally move to catch these instead preferring to sit and wait. There has been an increase in activity with the increase in artificial lighting which attracts insects.
Some of their vocalisations included a whoo-whoo noise, oom-oom sound, a loud hiss or a clacking noise made with their beak.
In winter tawny frogmouths will enter torpor. This is where they slow their heart rate and metabolism which lowers their body temperature and conserves energy. They may do this in short bursts during the day and only drop their temperature by 0.5oC or in long bursts overnight lasting many hours and dropping the temperature by 10oC.
Other names for the tawny frogmouth include freckled frogmouth or mopoke. The latter is shared with the boobook owl which has a similar call to the tawny frogmouth.
Tawny frogmouths are regularly mistaken for owls which they are not. They are in fact nightjars.