Tawny Frogmouth

14 March, 2010

Tawny Frogmouth, (<I>Podargus strigoides</I>) mount
Tawny Frogmouth, (Podargus strigoides) mount
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: I recently witnessed a Tawny Frogmouth fall dead from a tree. Why would this occur?

Answer: Often thought to be related to owls, frogmouths are more closely related to nightjars. There are 3 species of frogmouth in Australia, the Papuan Frogmouth which in Australia is found on Cape York Peninsula, the Marbled Frogmouth, found in rainforest areas of New South Wales and Queensland and the Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides, which is found over much of Australia including Tasmania. 

By day, the Tawny Frogmouth sits motionless on tree branches, its grey streaky plumage helping it to look like a piece of dead wood. By night, the Tawny Frogmouth hunts for a range of prey such as insects, snails, worms and slugs. They will also catch a range of vertebrates such as small mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds, catching them mainly from the ground.

Tawny Frogmouths usually nest in open woodlands and forest areas, their nest is usually a fairly basic structure of sticks which may have a layer of dry leaves. These birds mate for life and return to the same area year after year to breed, even using the same nest.

There could be several reasons why a Tawny Frogmouth may fall dead from a tree. One major issue is that as they feed by night these birds favour feeding under or near street lights and do so on the ground. Unlike owls the frogmouth relies on the use of its bill to capture prey rather than talons. A frogmouth’s foot is very weak. In this situation they are often struck by passing vehicles. Not all such strikes cause instantaneous death and the bird will often fly to a perch and after some time succumb to their injuries. Tawny Frogmouths will also chase insects like moths which may be attracted to car headlights and this can also result in the birds being hit by cars.

Another cause of death is unintentional poisoning with insects or rodents usually the intermediary. Householders spray or lay baits to remove insects or rodents. These animals are then preyed upon by the frogmouth and thus they pick up the poison and die.

Tawny Frogmouths are quite common in inner city Melbourne. The Forest Gallery in the Melbourne Museum is home to Tawny Frogmouths and have successfully bred them. There are also wild Tawny Frogmouths in Carlton Gardens. A pair has nested for the last few spring breeding seasons in an Elm tree and have raised several chicks. 

Should you find a dead Tawny Frogmouth or indeed any bird or animal please feel free to e-mail discoverycentre@museum.vic.gov.au to enquire as to whether the specimen is something that could be a valuable addition to the Museum’s collections.

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