A brief ode to Australia’s highly-camouflaged, big-mouthed, owl alternative known as the tawny frogmouth.

Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny Frogmouth

One of Australia’s most interesting looking birds may not be as pretty as the cockatoo or as powerful as the cassowary. In fact, it may be hard to spot at all if you were to come across one in the forest during the day. 

The tawny frogmouth, named for its brown and grey patterned feathers that mimic the forest’s trees exceptionally well, is a nocturnal hunter of small game. It is a larger bird with a stout body, large head, and very large, dark yellow eyes engineered to hunt under the cover of nightfall. It feasts on insects and snails most of the time, occasionally catching rodents, small reptiles, and even frogs (someway for a frog to go, being engulfed in a frogmouth). 

It catches its food by ambushing it from a tree branch, pouncing on it as it flies or crawls by. This has led to many unfortunate instances of the tawny frogmouth being struck by cars as it pursues insects attracted by headlights. The population is healthy, however, being part of the least concern group according to IUCN. 

It communicates to other tawny frogmouths with a gentile, low, continuously deep “oom oom oom.” When threatened, it will make a loud hissing noise to warn off intruders. Fossils of frogmouths and their relatives, the nightjars, started to pop up during the Eocene period, many millions of years ago and it has evolved along with the times, inhabiting most parts of Australia and Tasmania, living in every habitat except dense rainforest. 

Over the course of my first two weeks in Brisbane I have come across multiple tawny frogmouths as part of Australian animal shows at UQ’s campus. It has been a constant throughout these shows, an Australian animal ambassador on par with sugar gliders and baby saltwater crocodiles, two other regulars from these shows. 

The bird’s wacky appearance really stood out to me and inspired me to sketch the artwork above. It has intricate patterns running down its wings and back and the eyes seem very understanding and a little spooky. One can imagine the eyes popping out of the pitch-black darkness. 

Make sure not to confuse the tawny frogmouth with owls! Although both are nocturnal, there are several key differences between the two birds. The tawny frogmouths feet are much weaker and lack the talons that owls use to hunt bigger game. Because the frogmouth’s eyes are on the side of its head, it has no need to completely rotate its head like an owl does. They also have very dissimilar head shapes.

One of the tawny frogmouths I was able to pet was missing one of its amber eyes due to a collision with an automobile. It was just another sobering reminder of the threat that animals face while living in a quickly urbanizing world. 

Note: Occasionally I’ll do a small feature on a species I find interesting without much of a story behind it, like this one. 

Source: https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/birds/tawny-frogmouth/