Backyard Buddies
Tawny Frogmouth

Photo: David Croft/OEH

Tawny Frogmouth

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The Tawny Frogmouth lives on a diet of insects and feeds through the warmer months before winter, when many insects hibernate.

A frogmouth might look like an owl at first sight, but it is an entirely different kind of bird. They live all over Australia in every type of habitat.

Frogmouths have wide, flat beaks, while that of an owl is narrow and more hooked. Owls have strong feet with powerful talons, while the feet of Tawny Frogmouths are weak.

Their beaks are designed to catch insects such as cicadas and beetles and the occasional mouse, rat or frog. Unlike owls, the Tawny Frogmouth is a poor flyer. It will just sit quietly and wait for its prey to approach, swoop down on it and return to its perch.

It is important for Tawny Frogmouths to eat as much as they can during the abundant summer months.

In winter, their food supply will shrink so much that they spend much of their days and nights in torpor. Torpor is a state similar to hibernation where heart-rate and metabolism slow down significantly to save energy.

Tawny Frogmouths love mature trees to roost in during the day. Coarse and dark-barked stringybark trees are favourites, because they make a snoozing frogmouth almost invisible. Where there's one there's usually two. Frogmouths mate for life and will raise young every year. Both parents sit on the eggs, and both will feed the chicks.

Tip

You may have a family of Tawny Frogmouths living in your backyard without ever seeing them. Their camouflage makes them look like part of the tree, and chances are you hear them more than you see them.

On cooler days and particularly in autumn and winter they will pick a sunny spot on the northern side of the tree, and in summer they may choose a south or west facing spot.

You can help Tawny Frogmouths get the most out of summer and fatten up for winter. Avoid using pesticides or snail baits where frogmouths feed, as they love to eat snails, slugs and moths.

Did That Branch Just Wink at Me?

Keep an eye out for the elusive Tawny Frogmouth at dusk, one of the best times to spot them.

Autumn is a good time to see Tawny Frogmouths all over Australia because they'll be busy gorging themselves on bugs, before the insects start hibernating.

During the day their wonderfully designed feathers blend into the tree bark, making them very tricky to spot. A Tawny Frogmouth's feathers are not its only unusual feature—it also has a very large, wide beak. This is what gives them the name of 'Frogmouth'.

These birds love to catch unsuspecting insects in the night air. They also eat slugs and snails and even small mammals such as mice. They are a great animal to have in your backyard because while you're sleeping, they are busy keeping down the numbers of pesky critters in your garden.

Tawny Frogmouths mate for life. The couple will usually lay two eggs together every year and will take turns to sit on the eggs to keep them warm until they hatch.

If the Frogmouth feels scared or startled, they will put their head straight up in the air and close their eyes. To anyone or anything watching, they will look just like a branch stump on a tree. With their eyes shut they hope that whatever scared them won't be able to see them, and will then disappear.

So if you're out looking for the Tawny Frogmouth, try not to startle them, or you will have a hard time finding them again.

Tip

When you're driving at night, make sure you slow down in bushland areas or near big trees because many nocturnal animals accidentally wander onto roads. The Tawny Frogmouth has an unfortunate habit of flying in front of cars when insects become lit up in the headlights.

Did you know?

The Tawny Frogmouth is often incorrectly called the Mopoke because people may hear the night call of 'mopoke, mopoke' and knowing there are Frogmouths in the area, assume it must be them. But this call belongs to the Southern Boobook Owl. The Tawny Frogmouth's call is more of an 'oom, oom, oom'.

Related Factsheets:

Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny frogmouths are between 40–50cm long from head to tail. With their nocturnal habit and owl-like appearance, they are often thought of as owls. However their feet are weak, and lack the curved talons which owls use to catch prey. They live singly or in pairs and occasionally in family gr..

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Photo: OEH