From eggs to nearly full-grown in three months, these Tawny Frogmouth chicks grew up so fast! We visited on six or seven occasions.
While walking in Glades Bay Park Gladesville, we spotted a Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) sitting on the nest. The nests of the Frogmouths are famously shoddily-built: more of a loose collection of twigs and leaves dropped onto a horizontally-forked branch, and they are frequently apt to disintegrate.
It is the male that incubates the eggs during the day:
Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with Owls (“strigoides” actually means “owl-form”), but are more closely related to Nightjars. Owls take prey with their muscular feet and sharp talons, whereas the Tawnies’ feet are weak by comparison, and they take prey exclusively with their beak. Owls have fully-forward facing eyes, while Tawnies’ large yellow eyes – while superficially similar to Owls’ – are on the sides of their head.
The Tawnies’ diet is comprised of nocturnal insects (especially moths), worms, slugs and snails. Small mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds are sometimes caught and eaten. Mostly they pounce from a perch to prey on the ground, but we read that they will sometimes take moths in flight.
A month later we went back…
Dad was on the nest, his large yellow eyes eyes open and alert.
And now we glimpsed the two chicks – nothing more than balls of white fluff under their father at this stage, and only the tops of their heads visible:
Tawnies mate for life. Male and female share the nest-building. Breeding period is between August and December, but there are reports that they will also breed in response to heavy rains (such as we’ve had this summer?)
Five days later we were back. No signs of the chicks at first:
Until one of the little fellas popped his head out for air:
Tawny Frogmouths are most famous for their camouflage – and justifiably so. It really is quite remarkable. The blacks and greys (and sometimes browns), together with the elaborate mottling replicate to bark and bare wood of many trees almost perfectly. Their habit of perching with their heads held up at an angle, eyes closed and absolutely still means they are often taken for a broken branch until they move or open their eyes.
The two chicks were now getting to a size where they could not fit under their parent so well. One had the forward vantage point, the other was squeezed out under the parent’s right side. They were now sporting more plumage. Gone was the white fluff, and the first signs of their camouflage was appearing. Certainly in some shots, the front chick blended so well with his father that he looked like a pair of eyes set into Dad’s abdomen!
Mum was lower down on the same tree, and such was her stillness and camouflage that we didn’t spot her until a passer-by pointed her out.
Returning a fortnight later, the nest was abandoned and mostly disintegrated. There were no signs of the family in the tree, and we assumed we’d seen the end of the story. But a couple of hundred metres along the path, eagle-eyed Amanda spotted a parent and one of the youngsters roosting in a Jacaranda:
As we left, we saw another Tawny sitting on the nest in a different part of Glades Bay Park. Sadly, the next time we came back, this nest had fallen apart – there had been a lot of rain in the intervening period.
Tawny Frogmouths are found all over Australia including Tasmania, and are secure in every state. They are found in almost every environment except dense rainforest and treeless deserts.
While they are categorized as “least concern”, research featured in the “State of Australian Birds 2015” report shows an overall decline for Tawny Frogmouth numbers across all but one of the regions in which they occur. Factors include feral cats (Tawnies are quick to swoop on prey on the ground, but aren’t real quick at getting back to a perch, leaving them vulnerable to predators), and removal of habitat due to development and more frequent bushfires. Another factor seems to be exposure to pesticides and rodent poisons, particularly in populations that occur in urban areas.
Returning for the final time we did not see them until we had turned to leave, when once again, Amanda – bird-spotter extraordinaire – spied them roosting low (a lot lower than usual) in a tree.
Impossible to say whether this was the same parent/chick combo as we’d seen a month previously, but one thing was clear: the “chick” was very nearly fully-grown.