Habitat Ecology Information

What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #38 Tawny Frogmouth

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week or so I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s  backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#38 Tawny Frogmouth

(Podargus strigoides)

Tawny Frogmouths are often come upon by surprise due to their cryptic habit of sitting very still and looking like a branch. We have had one collide with our front door and when it was investigated as to what had happened nothing was noticed until later when one was found sitting on the coach light outside the door. When in the bush they angle themselves along the branch and point themselves to look like a broken tree branch with its eyes narrowed to slits. The colour of their plumage makes them blend in splendidly with its environment. Although they are often called an owl they are more closely related to the nightjar family of birds.

The plumage of the frogmouth is a mottled grey, white, black and rufous colour with the patterning assisting in them mimic dead tree branches. The softness of their feathers make their flight almost silent like an owl making swooping down on prey easier. They have big yellow eyes which aid in finding prey at night as they are nocturnal species hunting during the night. This is often causes them to collide with vehicles as they chase insects in the headlights. Diet consists of insects, small slugs and snails as well as a range of small reptiles and amphibians. They will also take small mammals such as mice and rats. Food is either caught on the wing or pounced on when on the ground.

Breeding occurs between August and December with a breeding pair often remaining in the same area for many years and mate for life. The nest is made from a loose assemblage of sticks usually in the fork or horizontally on the branch of a tree. Clutch size is usually two to three eggs and both parents incubates the eggs with the male usually doing the day shift and hunting at night.

The Tawny Frogmouth is found throughout Australia within a variety of habitats including forest, open woodlands, rainforest margins as well as parks and gardens.

Their greatest threat come from predation by foxes and cats as well as dogs. One of the birds in the attached image was taken by a cat the week after the photo was taken. Habitat loss from land clearing and even bushfires can impact on their survival. In addition they may be impacted by poisons used for rats and mice within urban areas.

Conservation Status in Victoria: “Least Concern”

Habitat Ecology 2021

References:

Bush Heritage: https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/tawny-frogmouth

Birdlife Australia: https://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/tawny-frogmouth