Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Tawny Frogmouth

Posted on 24 December, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our tenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

Before we delve into the secretive life of the Tawny Frogmouth, this ‘Bird of the Month’ blog is nearly one year old and I’d like to extend my deep gratitude to Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus. When I asked Damian if he’d be happy to help me with research, I had this rosy image in my head of the two of us spending blissful hours in his enviable library, buried in books. COVID-19 ensured this cozy vision of mine was not to be. Instead, Damian would email his research to me, along with his gorgeous photos. Ash Vigus has also been very generous with lending an ear and great ideas, as we did our socially-distanced walks, and his stunning photos. Without these two, Bird of the Month would not have been nearly as interesting nor pretty.

Some months ago the charismatic Owlet Nightjar was our feature bird. This month’s relative, the Tawny Frogmouth, is similar in that it is also nocturnal, NOT an owl and charismatic in its own cryptic way. Frogmouths are not restricted to Australia: Papua New Guinea and tropical Asia have their own species. In Australia, the Tawny Frogmouth is found all over the country where there are trees, but the Papuan Frogmouth is restricted to Cape York and the Marbled Frogmouth is found only in tiny areas on Cape York and around Brisbane. However, both species are found in Papua New Guinea. They all have characteristic wide mouths and are incredibly cryptic, being experts in looking like a broken off dead branch and therefore difficult to spot during the day.

By night, however, if your lucky you may see Tawny Frogmouths hawking flying insects in the car headlights. Sadly they are prone to getting squashed on the road because of this. At home I’ve watched one hawking Rain Moths attracted to the light from our windows at night. It must have eaten a dozen of them and I’m not quite sure how it fitted them all in – it must have been the Frogmouth equivalent of Christmas dinner with a third helping of pudding. They will also pounce on small vertebrates like lizards, which get a thorough pounding before being swallowed, and they enjoy insects on the ground.

Tawny Frogmouths are between 34 cm (females) and 53 cm (males) long and can weigh up to 680 g (photo: Damian Kelly)

Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to nightjars (photo: Damian Kelly)


Breeding is done in spring. Typically two eggs are laid in a messy collection of sticks which constitutes their nest, in a horizontal branch fork in a large mature tree. Despite populations slowly decreasing, these apparently insecure nests produce chicks fairly effectively. Equality of the sexes is a thing with Tawny Frogmouths, with the male sitting on the eggs during the day and both parents sitting at night.

These much loved and unusual birds can be found in urban areas, which perhaps endears them to us humans. Or maybe it’s their cute as cute fluffy chicks with their great wide eyes, snuggled up to their nest buddies.

Please enjoy the Tawny Frogmouth distinctive ‘Oom oom ooom call’, courtesy of Wild Ambience.

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.

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