The nocturnal bird called the Tawny Frogmouth is one of my favourite birds. Ever since we saw one in a tree above our tent near Lake Hattah in north west Victoria many years ago, this species has had a special place in our lives.
Being nocturnal, it is not a bird seen all that often. It is more commonly heard calling at night. From time to time we have one in our garden. One has even banged against our sliding glass door whilst catching a moth fluttering there.
Finding them in broad daylight is a challenge. They are usually well camouflaged perched on the limb of a tree, their feathers blending in with the colours and markings of the branch. When smaller birds – such as honeyeaters – become aware of the presence of a frogmouth or an owl for that matter, they set up quite a fuss, drawing attention to the roosting bird.
The bird shown in today’s photos is a captive bird, part of the excellent collection of birds of the Adelaide Zoo in South Australia.
The Tawny Frogmouth has a special place in our family folklore. Back in the mid 1980s we were camped in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in north west Victoria. We were right next to Lake Hattah, a lovely camping spot and place full of interesting birds. On this occasion we were disturbed around midnight by an “um-um-um-um” sound in the distance – or so we thought. Imaging the worst we feared someone had a portable generator, something forbidden in most Australian national parks. It really annoyed us.
Just as we were retiring the following night we heard the noise again. My attention was drawn to a dark shape in the tree just above our tent. Sitting there quite at home was our “generator”, a Tawny Frogmouth calling. This was the first time I’d heard this bird calling. And it kept on calling for a long time but we slept soundly, now knowing where the noise was coming from.
We occasionally have this species in our garden which is great. We don’t often hear it calling due to other noises – such as the television. My latest encounter with the species was at the Visitor Centre of the Innes National Park. We were paying our entry fees and I saw the lovely bird (shown above) sitting on display on the counter. A beautiful bird.
Sad to think that its um-um-umming days are over.
It is not easy to get good photos of nocturnal birds like the Tawny Frogmouth shown above.
I have had some unusual opportunities to get good shots of the Southern Boobook Owl, Spotted Nightjar and the Australian Owlet Nightjar in the past, but generally it is more a matter of taking unique opportunities when they present themselves.
The Tawny Frogmouth is certainly one of my favourite birds. We first encountered this fascinating bird while camping at Hattah Lakes in Victoria many years ago. The bird on that occasion was perched on a branch above our tent calling persistently and annoyingly – until we found out what it was in our torchlight. Once we knew what it was we were able to relax and get some sleep. Its “oom-oom-oom-oom” call has an unusual quality; it seems to be coming from far off but can be only metres away.
Tawny Frogmouths are found throughout Australia in a wide range of habitats. While they are most often heard at night it is possible to see them during the day. If other birds become aware of them roosting in a tree they can draw attention to the bird by mobbing it. I’ve expereinced this a number of times in recent years. While I can’t say this is a resident species in our garden, it is probably a more frequent visitor than we realise. It is certainly present in our district and we are only aware of one when we hear it calling at night.
The above photo is the best I have of this species but it is not brilliant. It was taken through the wire of an aviary at Adelaide Zoo.
On my recent visit to the Adelaide Zoo I managed to get some good photos of some of the animals and birds on display.
This photo of a Tawny Frogmouth is not one of them.
I was really struggling to get a good shot because of a number of factors:
- I was shooting through some rather thick wire. There were several large black cockatoos in the same aviary and they will easily chew through thin netting.
- The light was dodgy and the flash reflected off the wire.
- The keeper was in the aviary replacing some of the decorative tree branches, and so the frogmouth was uneasy.
- Frogmouths are naturally well camouflaged. Can you pick it out against the tree stump on which it is sitting?
If you click on the photo you can enlarge the image, and that might help. (Hint – the bird is right in the very centre of the photo.)
Update: I’ve recently posted a new article on this species, including a better photo here.