The Tawny Frogmouth, an avian resident of Australian forests, gets its name since its mouth closely replicates a frog. While it can be mistaken for an owl at first glance due to some physical similarities, it is not an owl and belongs to the family of Nightjars.
English naturalist John Latham described this bird for the first time in 1801. It was initially known as mopawk, or mopoke, a name used to call the Australian boobook, whose vocalizations often seemed similar to the tawny frogmouth. There are three recognized subspecies of the Tawny Frogmouth. Of these, we have P. s. phalaenoides in the northern part, P. s. brachypterus, in the western region, and P. s. strigoides, seen in the eastern part of Australia.
Height: 13 to 21 in (34 to 53 cm)
Weight: 5.5 to 19.6 oz (157 to 555 g).
Face and Eyes: They have broad and heavy beaks, facing forward, while their eyes appear large and bulging.
Body and Coloration: They are stocky and compact with rounded wings and short legs.
Males and females differ from each other when it comes to overall body coloration. They come in three distinct color morphs, gray being the most common. The males appear silvery gray, with pale underparts and black stripes. On the other hand, the females mostly display a reddish-brown coloration than gray, with a long brown stripe running through their cheeks.
Their beaks are olive-grey or blackish with a hooked pattern on the tip and bristles on the top. In contrast, the feathers appear grayish with dark gray and reddish streaks. Similar to owl, they have yellow eyes.
Is the Tawny Frogmouth an owl?
The fact that the Tawny Frogmouth is not an owl is reflected in its species name, strigoides, which means owl-like. Both of them have some visible differences mentioned below.
Physical features: The Tawny Frogmouth doesn’t have curved talons on their feet; in fact, their feet are tiny. This bird has eyes on the side of its head, while the eyes of an owl face the front. Another notable difference is their beaks, forward-facing in the tawny frogmouths and downward-facing in owls. These birds even look heavier in comparison to owls.
Vocalization: Owls generally “hoot” to communicate, while Tawny Frogmouths make different sounds.
Tawny frogmouths live in the entirety of the Australian mainland except for far western Queensland, the central Northern Territory, and a good part of the Nullarbor Plain. In Tasmania, they inhabit the northern and eastern parts of the state.
They dwell in multiple habitats, including forests, woodlands, scrub and heathland vegetation, and savannahs, except for rich rainforests and treeless deserts. These birds even occupy areas populated with many river gums and casuarinas. They can be found along with river courses in timbered areas.
Tawny frogmouths are common in the suburbs too, having adapted to human presence nesting in parks and gardens with trees.
In the wild, the Tawny Frogmouth can live up to 14 years.
What Do They Eat?
Tawny Frogmouths are primarily insectivores. Their diet consists mainly of centipedes, worms, spiders, snails, and slugs. Occasionally they eat larger prey like frogs, reptiles, small birds, and even mammals. Though rarely seen drinking water from a lake or other water sources, their body’s moisture requirement comes from their prey, rainfall, and dew.
They are nocturnal and primarily hunt at night.
During the day, the tawny frogmouth displays several inactive behavioral gestures like sitting in a huddled or slouched posture. Contrastingly, at night, they get increasingly active, bobbing their head, and flying around.
These birds, mainly the males, are fiercely territorial, protecting their nests from others of their species, driving away any male intruder.
Tawny Frogmouths have quite a few different calls. One of them is a low-pitched, repetitive sequence of sounds, ‘ooom-ooom-ooom’. They also emit a soft buzzing sound when disturbed at rest. If threatened, they would express their annoyance by hissing aloud. Juveniles often make an unusual ‘huffing’ sound.
They aren’t good nest builders but will live in their shabby homes for as long as they can. In fact the males mostly pick up leaves and sticks arranging it haphazardly to make their dwellings.
When threatened, it will try to hide among dead tree branches in a behavior referred to as ‘stumping’.
Why do Tawny Frogmouths sit still with an open mouth?
During the daytime, they stay perfectly still on branches while keeping their mouths open. If an unsuspecting insect flies into their mouth by accident, they snap it shut.
Also, sometimes when attacked by predators, it will puff up its feathers, snap its yellow bill, and gape its mouth to look large and intimidating.
Its predators include carpet pythons, foxes, domestic cats, and dogs.
Tawny Frogmouths are experts at camouflage, choosing dead branches on purpose with an appearance that matches them. This helps them hide from predators.
They have huge eyes and an excellent sense of hearing, which help them locate prey in the dark.
Mating and Reproduction
The breeding season of these birds is from August to December, but those in arid areas sometimes breed in response to heavy rains. The male grooms the female’s plumage with his beak gently in sessions lasting for ten minutes or more. Tawny Frogmouth pairs mate for life, and they share the care of their chicks. Their incubation period lasts between 26 and 30 days.
The female lays one to three eggs. The juvenile stage of the tawny frogmouth is 25 – 35 days, during which they develop half their adult mass.
They reach sexual maturity at less than 12 months of age.