Bird or branch?

When we introduce travellers to their first Tawny Frogmouth there is a moment of disbelief.

“Where?” they ask. “Right there, on the branch,” we reply.

“All I can see is a branch.”

“Yes, that branch is a bird.” The branch opens it’s eyes.

“Oooohhhh!”

Tawny Frogmouths are the camouflage experts of the Australian Bush, but there’s more to them than a clever disguise. Read on for the five most interesting facts about their behaviour.

Tawny Frogmouth disguise

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FACT 1. Tawny Frogmouths are good husbands

Tawny Frogmouth pairs mate for life, and male and female share the care of their chicks.

The female lays one to three eggs, and then the male takes over, giving her a break to rest.

In the daytime, the male sits on the nest to incubate the eggs. At night, male and female alternate on the nest. Once the eggs had hatched, father and mother take turns to keep the chicks warm and safe.

The chicks stay in the nest for about a month, and then roost on a branch with their parents for several months.  Read more about the families of Tawny Frogmouths here. 

Tawny Frogmouth father on nest
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FACT 2. But they are not great at building a nest

Tawny Frogmouths are not great architects. But they think they are!

The male bird will pick up a few sticks and leaves and shove them into place, bundling them together roughly in the shape of a nest.

Tawny Frogmouth nests are flimsy, and it has been suggested that chicks are quite likely to fall.

Most Tawny Frogmouths seem oblivious to their failings as builders, re-using the same nest (or what remains of it), year after year. (1)

Tawny Frogmouths have brood patches – learn about them here. 

Tawny Frogmouth nesting behaviour
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FACT 3. Tawny Frogmouths know all about colour-matching

When roosting a Tawny Frogmouth will stretch itself up on a dead branch, looking exactly like a broken-off stump.

This is not an accident.

Tawny Frogmouths actually choose dead branches on purpose, with an appearance that matches them. (3) This behaviour helps protect them from predators during the day.

Tawny Frogmouth behaviour use of dead branch

Podargus strigoides father and chick

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FACT 4. Tawny Frogmouths purr, scream, laugh and cry

Tawny Frogmouths are very vocal, and have a huge range of calls. Cackling, like a soft laugh, shows annoyance or alarm; screaming and screeching show fear or anger. Mates purr at each other when they are courting. (2)

Tawnies cry or whimper when are frightened or have suffered a loss. Baby birds that have lost their parents have been heard using this call, as have fledglings that are about to leave home for the first time.

Wildlife experts observed a female bird making this call for several days after she had lost her husband in a vehicle accident. She rejected partners for the following two years, which specialists say may indicate grieving behaviour. (1)

Tawny Frogmouth vocalising beak open

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FACT 5. Tawny Frogmouths are as tough as nails

Tawny Frogmouths are found in a range of environments across Australia – from desert to cold mountains.. Their feathers insulate them well, both from heat and cold.

Even on very hot summer days Tawny Frogmouths stay on their exposed perches. They produce mucus in their mouths, and as they breathe in, it cools the air. This behaviour cools their whole body.

When the weather is cold, Tawny Frogmouths can go into torpor — a type of short hibernation.

Tawny Frogmouth chick exposed branch

Tawny Frogmouths can be seen on most of our tours, particularly the Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD.

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NOTES & REFERENCES:

(1) Kaplan Gisela, “Tawny Frogmouth” CSIRO Publishing ISBN: 9781486308163  https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/7762/

(2) http://aviansag.org/Husbandry/Unlocked/Care_Manuals/Tawny%20Frogmouth.pdf

(3) Körtner, G. & Geiser, Fritz. (1999). Roosting behaviour of the tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides). Journal of Zoology. 248. 501-507. 10.1017/S0952836999008092. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-zoology/article/roosting-behaviour-of-the-tawny-frogmouth-podargus-strigoides/48CD30F1916D8C2E4C75809056BEA175

32 great facts about Tawny Frogmouths: https://justbirding.com/tawny-frogmouth-facts/

Podargus strigoides behaviour nesting