Tawny Frogmouth

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Tawny Frogmouth
At Bonorong Wildlife Park, Tasmania, Australia
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Caprimulgiformes
Family: Podargidae
Genus: Podargus
Species: P. strigoides
Binomial name
Podargus strigoides
(Latham, 1801)

The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is an Australian species of frogmouth, a type of bird found throughout the Australian mainland, Tasmania and southern New Guinea. The Tawny Frogmouth is often mistaken for an owl. Many Australians refer to the Tawny Frogmouth by the colloquial names of "Mopoke" or "Morepork",[2] which usually are common alternative names for the Southern Boobook. Frogmouths are not raptorial birds.[3]


The Tawny Frogmouth was first described in 1801 by English naturalist John Latham. Its specific name is derived from the Latin stems "strix" "owl" (Latin: strix) and "-oides" "form" (Latin −oides). It belongs to the frogmouth family Podargidae, which also includes the other species of frogmouths like the Javan and Solomons Frogmouths. The frogmouths belong in Caprimulgiformes, which in turn is part of Neoaves. The frogmouth family has been around for about 56 million years,[citation needed] since the Eocene period.

Although related to owls, frogmouths are more closely related to nightjars and oilbirds.


Camouflaged Tawny Frogmouths blend in with colour and texture of tree bark. Photo taken in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Perching on a balcony in Sydney, Australia

Males and females look alike and are 35–53 cm (14–21 in) long. This very bulky species can weigh up to 680 grams (1.5 lbs) and, in overweight zoo specimens, up to 1400 grams (3.1 lbs). This species thus reaches the highest weights known in the Caprimulgiformes order.[4] They have yellow eyes and a wide beak topped with a tuft of bristly feathers.[5] They make loud clacking sounds with their beaks and emit a reverberating booming call.

Tawny Frogmouths hunt at night and spend the day roosting on a dead log or tree branch close to the tree trunk. Their camouflage is excellent — staying very still and upright, they look just like part of the branch.[6]

The Tawny Frogmouth is almost exclusively insectivorous, feeding rarely on frogs and other small prey.[3] They catch their prey with their beaks rather than with their talons, another way in which they are different from owls. Owls fly around at night hunting food, but Tawny Frogmouths generally remain sitting very still on a low perch, and wait for food to come to them. They sometimes drop from their perch onto prey on the ground. The bird's large eyes and excellent hearing aid nocturnal hunting.[6]

Differences from owls[edit]

Tawny Frogmouths and owls both have anisodactyl feet - meaning that one toe is facing backwards and the other three face forwards. However, owls’ feet are much stronger than the feet of the Tawny Frogmouth as owls use their feet to catch their prey. Owls are also able to swing one of their toes around to the back (with a unique flexible joint) to get a better grip on their prey. Tawny Frogmouths have fairly weak feet as they use their beaks to catch their prey. Owls eat small mammals, like mice and rats, so their bones are shorter and stronger than those of Tawny Frogmouths which usually hunt smaller prey. Tawny Frogmouths typically wait for their prey to come to them, only rarely hunting on the wing like owls.


Chicks 5 days after hatching

Tawny Frogmouth pairs stay together until one of the pair dies. They breed from August to December. They usually use the same nest each year, and must make repairs to their loose, untidy platforms of sticks. After mating, the female lays two or three eggs onto a lining of green leaves in the nest. Both male and female take turns sitting on the eggs to incubate them until they hatch about 25 days later. Both parents help feed the chicks.

Defensive behaviour[edit]

Tawny Frogmouth in defensive position
Cryptic pose

When feeling threatened, the Tawny Frogmouth stays perfectly still, with eyes almost shut and with bill pointed straight, relying on camouflage for protection.



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Podargus strigoides". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/birds-of-prey/2
  3. ^ a b Society for the Preservation of Raptors, Species Data, Order Caprimulgiformes, Family Podargidae, Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides).
  4. ^ "Nightjars and Their Allies" by David Holyoak. Oxford University Press (2001), ISBN 978-0-19-854987-1.
  5. ^ Tawny Frogmouth
  6. ^ a b "Tawny Frogmouth Fact Sheet, Lincoln Park Zoo"

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]