The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is one of those animals that is rarely seen, but is always watching. Its camouflage is so refined that it can hide in plain sight, yet still remain hidden from predators. Due to these habits, many people don't know much about the Tawny Frogmouth, so here are the basics!
Although a lot of the time these birds go unnoticed, this species is probably the most common nocturnal bird in Melbourne. They are widespread throughout Australia and are found in a diverse range of habitats, including open woodlands, coastal scrub, heath and mallee, as well as in more built-up areas such as roadsides, golf courses, parks and backyards.
Often thought to be a type of owl, Tawny Frogmouths are actually more closely related to nightjars. Frogmouths lack the strong, curved talons that owls possess, and have a broad, heavy bill, as opposed to the narrow beak of an owl.
With their mottled grey-brown plumage there is no denying that this species is well-disguised. However, the mechanism that makes this bird a master of camouflage is also behavioural. As a nocturnal bird, Tawny Frogmouths rest during the day, but do not shelter in nests or tree hollows like many other Australian birds. They sit out on an exposed branch, with their eyes closed and their heads tilted upwards. This makes them look like a part of the tree, or more specifically, like the dead stump of a branch.
At dusk you may see them sitting on a tree limb, yellow eyes wide, watching and waiting for prey. Tawny Frogmouths feed on moths, slugs, snails and worms, and also small vertebrates such as mice, lizards and frogs. If you don’t see them, you may hear their call: a soft, low ‘oom-oom-oom’ resonating into the night.
Even if you haven't yet spotted one (which is highly probable given their exceptional camouflage), I can assure you that Tawny Frogmouths are living amongst us in our parks and gardens. Keep an eye out for these unusual birds - it's pretty satisfying when you find one!