Bird Photography Challenge #18: Tawny Frogmouth

For our # 18 Bird Photography Challenge, we bring you a superbly camouflaged bird: the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides).  We were lucky to see this master of disguise for the first time at Banyule Flats in late April and again a few weeks later.  Leanne Cole, photographer and local resident, often frequents the Banyule Flats and was kind enough to point out to me this hard to spot bird during our early morning wander.

What does it look like

Tawny-Frogmouth1The Tawny Frogmouth is a large stocky bird measuring 35 to 55cms, with rounded wings and short legs.  The plumage is silver-grey on top, streaked and mottled with black, white and rufous above and a paler grey below.  The leading edge of the primary feathers are fringed to allow for silent flight.  The head of the Tawny Frogmouth is large, with yellow eyes and a wide heavy bill which is olive grey to blackish.  It has bristles above its beak.  During the day this nocturnal bird perches on tree branches, in a fork low down and looks as if it is part of the tree, with its colouring and texture looking a bit like bark.  This makes it practically invisible.

Did you know?

With its nocturnal habit and owl-like appearance, the Tawny Frogmouth is often confused with an owl, but is actually more closely related to the nightjar, with is another nocturnal bird with long wings and a short beak.

How does it behave?

Tawny-Frogmouth5The Tawny Frogmouth nests in trees and hunts at night. Being a carnivore, it eats insects, worms, slugs and snails.  Small reptiles and frogs are also taken.  It caches its food by swooping to the ground from a vantage perch.  It can also catch moths on the wing, which makes the bird vulnerable to being hit by cars, when insects are attracted by their headlights.

Tawny frogmouths form pairs for life and can often be seen together roosting closely together on the same branch.  This was the case both times I photographed them.

At the first hint of danger, such as an approaching photographer or two, rather than flee, it freezes, compacting its plumage and closing its eyes, and looks just like a dead branch.  Often a pair will sit together with their heads pointing skywards to further emphasize the dead tree appearance.  In this photo, you can see the eye of the top bird just looking at me sideways!

Where is it found?

Found throughout the Australia mainland and Tasmania, this native bird favours heath, forest and woodlands, in urban and rural areas.  The images were captured at Banyule Flats, a grassy wetland in inner Melbourne, with a Canon 7D Mark II, and a Canon 100-400L lens, hand held.   Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.

23 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #18: Tawny Frogmouth

  1. This is definitely one of the strangest-looking birds that I have ever seen in a photo and it sure must have been cool to encounter them in person. One of the real benefits of shooting with someone else is that each of you may spot different things and increase the photo opportunities.

    • Absolutely Mike. And with these birds having two people searching is very much needed. We spotted the Frogmouths but if you moved a few steps to one side, they were invisible! In quite a few years of birdwatching, i had never seen them until those two occasions. The good thing is they seem to frequent one particular area. So now I know where to look!

  2. Wow!! Their camouflage is superb! The way they become invisible if you shift your eyes even a smidgen is incredible!! Great pictures 🙂

  3. one of my many favourites Chris, Great shots. I think that they both are engaged in nest building and rearing their young too.

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