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Tawny frogmouth

Tawny frogmouth - binit

What are tawny frogmouths?

Tawny frogmouths are large, mostly nocturnal birds. They have a large head and resemble owls but are not part of the owl family. Their scientific name is Podargus strigoides. The local Darug name for tawny frogmouths is binit.

The name 'frogmouth' is due to their large and wide beak giving them a frog-like appearance. Tawny frogmouths can be up to 53 centimetres tall and large individuals can weigh up to 700 grams.

What do tawny frogmouths look like?

Tawny frogmouth feathers are a combination of mottled silver-grey, black and white in colour. Their heads are stocky with large yellow eyes which are more sideward facing than an owls. Stiff whisker-like bristles surround their beaks. They have rounded wings and short legs with relatively small feet. Their feet lack the curved talons that owls possess.

What do tawny frogmouths sound like?

Their most common call is a low booming 'oom-oom-oom'. If threatened, tawny frogmouths make a loud hissing noise and sometimes clacking sounds with their large frog-like beaks.

Where do tawny frogmouths live?

Tawny frogmouths are found throughout most of Australia, including Tasmania, except for some of the dry interior parts of the continent. They can be found in many habitat types including eucalypt forests, scrub, savannah and heathland vegetation communities. 

Tawny frogmouths are common in suburban habitats where they have adapted well to living alongside humans. These birds prefer large old trees in which to build their stick nests, usually positioned where a large branch meets the trunk.

What do tawny frogmouths eat?

Tawny frogmouths are mostly nocturnal carnivores. Unlike owls, who tend to prey mostly on mammals, tawny frogmouths do not have powerful feet and talons for grasping larger prey so their diet mostly consists of invertebrates. Nocturnal insects like moths make up a large part of the diet of these birds. They have also been known to prey upon spiders, beetles, worms, centipedes, slugs and snails. Occasionally small mammals, reptiles and frogs are taken.

As dusk approaches tawny frogmouths become active, often choosing a branch to perch upon to launch short, silent swooping attacks on their prey on or near the ground. They grasp their prey in their large beaks before returning to their roost to eat it. When small mammals or reptiles are caught they are generally knocked against the perch branch until dead before consuming.

How are tawny frogmouths adapted to their environment?

Tawny frogmouths, being nocturnal hunters, need to rest and hide in their habitat during the day. Tawny frogmouths camouflage with their habitat incredibly well. They have a mottled appearance and a habit of holding their head upwards when roosting, motionless, on a branch of a tree with brown, flakey bark. They will also sit so their tail is laid along the branch and close their eyes to slits. All of these features and behaviours makes them look just like a dead tree branch, even in broad daylight.

Relying on their camouflage, tawny frogmouths will often allow predators to approach quite closely. If threatened they suddenly open their yellow-lined beak and make a hissing sound. They may then take flight to escape.

Tawny frogmouths also have unique adaptations that allow them to capture food. Tawny frogmouths have soft feathers, like owls, allowing silent stealthy flight which is beneficial for hunting. The stiff, sensitive bristles that surround their beak may assist in detecting the movement of flying insects. Prey can be easily captured by their large and wide beak.

How do tawny frogmouths reproduce?

Tawny frogmouths mate for life and, if undisturbed, often stay in the same territory for many years. Their breeding season is usually August to December. They build a fragile nest of sticks and leaves up to 30 centimetres in diameter on branches quite often near the fork junction in the trunk of the tree. They lay between one to three eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs during the night, whilst the male sits on the eggs during the day.

After hatching both parents care for the young by providing food and protection in shifts. When first hatched the chicks have fluffy white down. The baby birds fledge in 25 to 35 days after hatching.

What threats do tawny frogmouths face?

The conservation status of tawny frogmouths in New South Wales is currently secure, mostly because they have such a wide distribution. Native birds such as currawongs, butcherbirds and ravens often steal their eggs, whilst tree-climbing snakes will take both the eggs and chicks from the nest. Adult birds can be taken by carpet pythons when roosting. 

Tawny frogmouths face many threats from humans such as habitat loss through land clearing for farming or housing estates, forestry and intense bushfires. For their breeding cycle tawny frogmouths require large trees for nesting and to roost upon. Often these valuable trees are logged for their timber or cleared to make way for farming or housing estates. 

Cats, whether they are house pets or feral, are a significant introduced predator of the tawny frogmouth along with foxes and dogs. The tawny frogmouth's habit of targeting prey near or on the ground brings them in range of these predators.

Responsible cat owners should keep their cats inside at night. They should fit their cats with collars or harnesses that have a bell. The bell can warn birds of the presence of hunting cats and allow them time to fly away to safety.

The use of insecticides and rodent poisons are hazardous to tawny frogmouths as they remain in the target animal and can be fatal to these carnivorous birds. Tawny frogmouths are also often hit by cars and trucks as they swoop into the beam of the headlights whilst chasing insects.

Find out more

Habitat is a special digital book that explores the beautiful natural environment of the Australian eucalyptus forest.

Learn about the interactions between plants and animals in the forest and how people can interact with and care for these special natural areas.

Containing a suite of interactive activities, videos and beautiful images, this book will encourage you to go out and explore your local eucalypt forest.

This book is designed by teachers to support the NSW Geography K-6 syllabus and Science and Technology K-6 syllubus.

Download free from Apple Books

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