The Oscar the Grouch of frogmouths!

So… Oscar the Grouch is real…

Most people see these birds and simply call them “owls,” well that’s if they see them at all. In fact not only are frogmouths not actually owls at all, they are very hard to find during the day.

To find frogmouths:

This is because they have remarkable camouflage that blends in extremely well with the bark of the trees they sleep on. They cannot change the colour of their feathers, but you will find there are some regional differences in colour shade. Have a look at the frogmouths in the pictures, the camouflage is amazing.

Each feather on the frogmouths look like a flake of bark when ruffled up, but when pressed against the body they give the appearance of a rough, broken branch stump. This makes them simply melt into their surrounds and ensures a good day’s sleep.

Where do frogmouths fit in?

No wonder frogmouths are so hard to find by day!

To the part about owls. They are more closely related to nightjars (Caprimulgidae) and Asian frogmouths (Batrachostomidae) than owls. There are some key differences, but the main one is the feet, in owls the feet are “zygodactyl” which means they can grip with two toes forward and two toes back. Frogmouths have the more “standard” anisodactyl toe arrangement of three forward, one back. Frogmouths differ from owls in other ways too, but all we need to know for now is that they are not owls at all. In fact, owls prey on frogmouths at times. The barking owl (Ninox connivens) is a major predator of the tawny frogmouth at least.

More info on frogmouths

The tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is the most common and widespread of all the frogmouths in Australia and is found in every habitat. The Papuan frogmouth (Podargus papuensis) is found in New Guinea and the far north of Queensland while the marbled frogmouth (Podargus ocellatus) is very rare and found in New Guinea, far northern Queensland and a small area near the NSW/QLD border on the east coast.


The largest of the frogmouths – the Papuan frogmouth, this one photographed in Tully, Queensland.

During the day, frogmouths will sit on a branch and do their best to look like part of it. They will peer at an observer through nearly closed eyes, only flying away at the last minute if they think they have been discovered. Sometimes you will find the same one in the same place for weeks, months or even years. When breeding they build a flimsy nest on a branch, raising one to three young in a normal year.

At dusk the frogmouths will announce their presence with calls, the common tawny frogmouths making a deep “oom oom oom” call, or sometimes a coughing sound. They sit on branches and drop down to ambush worms, frogs, insects, scorpions, snakes and anything else that massive heavy bill can snap up.


Frogmouths in a family group

Frogmouths are great birds and worth looking out for. See if you can find them in you local area!

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