This little bird was born at Australia’s Adelaide Zoo in October. The parents are both hand raised and it is unusual for hand raised birds to successfully raise their own young. However these parents are doing a great job caring for the chick and are also feeding it well, with minimal supplementary feeding from the keepers. The chick weighed only 22 grams at birth (.8 ounces!) but is now a few months old and weighing in at 197 grams and can be seen flying around the exhibit but still staying close to its parents.
Tawny Frogmouths are found throughout the Australian mainland, Tasmania and southern Papua New Guinea. They are often hard to spot within the trees as they camouflage so well.
Males and females look alike and are 35–53 cm (14–21 in) long. This very bulky species
can weigh up to 680 grams (1.5 lbs) and, in overweight zoo specimens, up to 1400 grams (3.1 lbs). This species thus reaches the highest weights known in the Caprimulgiformes order.They have yellow eyes and a wide beak topped with a tuft of bristly feathers. They make loud clacking sounds with their beaks and emit a reverberating booming call.
Tawny Frogmouths hunt at night and spend the day roosting on a dead log or tree branch close to the tree trunk. Their camouflage is excellent — staying very still and upright, they look just like part of the branch.
The Tawny Frogmouth is almost exclusively insectivorous, feeding rarely on frogs and other small prey. They catch their prey with their beaks rather than with their talons, another way in which they are different from owls. Owls fly around at night hunting food, but Tawny Frogmouths generally remain sitting very still on a low perch, and wait for food to come to them. They catch prey with their beaks, and sometimes drop from their perch onto the prey on the ground. The bird’s large eyes and excellent hearing aid nocturnal hunting.
Differences from owls
Tawny Frogmouths and owls both have anisodactyl feet – meaning that one toe is facing backwards and the other three face forwards. However, owls’ feet are much stronger than the feet of the Tawny Frogmouth as owls use their feet to catch their prey. Owls are also able to swing one of their toes around to the back (with a unique flexible joint) to get a better grip on their prey. Tawny Frogmouths have fairly weak feet as they use their beaks to catch their prey. Owls eat small mammals, like mice and rats, so their bones are shorter and stronger than those of Tawny Frogmouths which usually hunt smaller prey. Tawny Frogmouths typically wait for their prey to come to them, only rarely hunting on the wing like owls.
Tawny Frogmouth pairs stay together until one of the pair dies. They breed from August to December. They usually use the same nest each year, and must make repairs to their loose, untidy platforms of sticks. After mating, the female lays two or three eggs onto a lining of green leaves in the nest. Both male and female take turns sitting on the eggs to incubate them until they hatch about 25 days later. Both parents help feed the chicks.
When feeling threatened, the Tawny Frogmouth stays perfectly still, with eyes almost shut and with bill pointed straight, relying on camouflage for protection.
Click on the picture to view a video taken at Adelaide Zoo of this gorgeous baby Tawny Frogmouth – I particularly love how the youngster moves from side to side.
When I took my art students to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Queensland, we were lucky enough to be able to draw and photograph their resident tawny frogmouth who was rescued and as a result could not fly. It was interesting to see the instinctive changes this bird made when we moved outside to draw and our tawny frogmouth model suddenly went from being totally relaxed indoors to then being rigid and looking up to the sky, motionless. We asked the “keepers” what he was doing and we were told that he was imitating a branch by not only being camouflaged by colour but by being motionless! This way he was less susceptible to predators.
Below are a couple of my favourite photographs I took of the tawny frogmouth at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.