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Werribee Open Range Zoo

Tawny Frogmouth

A visit to one of Zoos Victoria’s three properties is the perfect opportunity to get out into nature, see, hear, smell, and learn about some of our planet’s most amazing species.

At Werribee Open Range Zoo, visitors not only have the chance to encounter awesome animals from around the globe, but also native, Australian animals found in our very own neighbourhood. The Tawny Frogmouth is one such creature.

At first glance Tawny Frogmouths look a lot like owls. Both birds are nocturnal, with a large set of eyes for greater vision to help with night-time hunting they both eat insects, small mammals, reptiles and frogs; both have anisodactyl feet; and they both have soft, light feathers for noiseless flight.

Despite these similarities, Frogmouths are more closely related to Nightjars, from the same order, Caprimulgiformes. Owls however, belong to the order, Strigiformes.

Widespread across Australia, including Tasmania, Tawny Frogmouths thrive in most habitats apart from dense rainforests and treeless deserts. It’s not uncommon to see these nocturnal, owl-like creatures nesting in suburban backyards, parks and gardens as they have become very comfortable with human activity. In fact, you may have already walked past one and not even have noticed. With their extraordinary camouflage, Tawny Frogmouths are the masters of disguise!

Silvery-grey plumage with streaks and mottles of black, white and rufous allow the Tawny Frogmouth to perch on tree branches during the day, barely noticeable as it blends in to the colour and texture of the tree in which it is sitting. Amazingly clever, the Tawny Frogmouth perches itself as still as a statue, and angles its body and beak to follow the natural form of the tree. This way it looks like a broken tree branch rather than a bird sitting in a tree!

The Tawny Frogmouth will eat smaller animals such as mice, frogs and lizards but its diet is predominantly insectivorous. It is an opportunistic night predator and catches its food either by foraging on the ground, or by pouncing from tree branch to tree branch collecting moths, spiders, bugs and beetles along the way. In contrast to the owl that uses its strong feet and talons to catch prey while in full flight, the Tawny Frogmouth uses its strong beak, yet rarely catches its prey on the wing.

Tawny Frogmouths can live up to 20 years of age in captivity. Breeding pairs nest from August to December; the pair shares the construction of the nest, the incubation of the eggs (between 1 and 3) and the parenting of the young fledglings. The Tawny Frogmouth has an extremely large distribution range and currently has a stable population in the wild

  • Male and female Tawny Frogmouths pair for life. For the duration of their partnership they bond through regular and tender displays of grooming and plumage stroking
  • During breeding season, the male Tawny Frogmouth woos his partner by ‘singing’ to her; she then joins in and they perform a duet together
  • The inside of the Tawny Frogmouth’s mouth is yellow. A unique hunting method of the Tawny Frogmouth is to open its mouth, reflect the moonlight and just wait. As it does this, moths and other insects are attracted to the warm, yellow colour and become a very easy, tasty meal for the bird
  • When feeling threatened, the Tawny Frogmouth waits until the very last minute to reveal its cover and either fly away or make an alarm call to signal danger to its chicks and warn off predators