The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is a widespread Australian bird of the Podargidae family. These nocturnal birds are the best known of three Australian Frogmouth species, and they are breeding residents across most of the continent.
So where and when do Tawny Frogmouths build their nests? Could you have a pair of these wonderful birds nesting in your garden?
Tawny Frogmouths generally build their nests on the branches of large trees. They prefer native Australian species with rough bark that allows these masters of camouflage to blend in seamlessly. Frogmouths may be devoted parents, but their nest building often leaves much to be desired. The nest itself is a rather basic platform of sticks that is constructed by both the male and female birds.
Tawny Frogmouths nest in the spring and summer, although the process of nest construction may start at the end of winter. Tawny Frogmouth eggs hatch after about a month of incubation by both parents, and the chicks are ready to leave the nest after a further month or so.
Read along as we unpack the nesting habits of one of Australia’s favourite birds, the terrific Tawny Frogmouth.
Tawny Frogmouth sat in the nest
Tawny Frogmouths are breeding residents practically throughout Australia. They breed in most habitats, apart from tropical forests and treeless deserts.
These birds have adapted well to suburban areas, and with a little luck and a keen eye, they can even be spotted in well-established gardens and parks.
Tawny Frogmouths usually nest between 3 and 10 meters above the ground in large trees. They typically build their nests in a fork, although they have also been known to construct them on top of old bird nests like those of magpies and currawongs, provided the Frogmouths approve of the location of the nest.
The Broad-Leaved Stringybark (Eucalyptus caliginosa) was found to be an important tree for nesting In a study of breeding Frogmouths in eastern Australia. They prefer this and other tree species with rough textured bark for better camouflage.
Close up of a nesting Tawny Frogmouth in a tree
Tawny Frogmouths are not the best nest builders in the Australian bush. In fact, their nest site selection can be questionable, and eggs and chicks fall from the nest quite frequently.
Tawny Frogmouths build a simple platform nest of sticks with a diameter of up to 30 cm or so. The structure is rather loosely constructed and creates a shallow depression. The inside is lined with softer materials such as grass and leaves.
Continue reading to learn more fascinating secrets of Tawny Frogmouth nesting.
Close up of a Tawny Frogmouths nest
The breeding season of the Tawny Frogmouth is between August and January, although most egg laying occurs in the spring between September and October.
Tawny Frogmouth nesting can take from two to three months per brood. The duration varies most greatly by the amount of time spent on nest construction, but the incubation and nestling period can also vary by a few days.
Tawny Frogmouth perched high up on a tree branch
Tawny Frogmouths select a suitable nest site and then bring in appropriate nest material. These birds do not have powerful grasping feet like owls and raptors and therefore must carry in the twigs and other materials with their bills.
Tawny Frogmouths put little effort into securing the sticks and twigs that make up their nests. They simply drop the material in place and then walk over them to create a shallow bowl. Leaves and grass may be dropped onto the nest to make a softer environment for the eggs and chicks.
Tawny Frogmouth nests can take surprisingly long to construct. At best, nest construction can take a night or two, but it can take weeks or even as long as a month before the nest is ready to use.
The actual time required varies depending on whether they are building a completely new nest, repairing an old structure, or making use of the abandoned nest of another bird species.
Tawny Frogmouth nesting
Baby Tawny Frogmouths leave the nest about a month (25-35 days) after hatching.
All of the chicks usually fledge the nest on the same day, often to the detriment of the weakest individual. Tawny Frogmouth parents will continue to feed their chicks for a week or two after they have left the nest, however.
Tawny Frogmouths usually produce a single brood per season, although they will occasionally produce a second. They will also start a new nest in the unfortunate event of nest failure. One to three eggs (rarely up to five) are produced per brood.
An adult male Tawny Frogmouth bird is perfectly hidden sitting on its nest in the fork of a tree
Tawny Frogmouths are territorial and monogamous birds that mate for life. They will occupy the same territory for several years, and the pair may use the same nest site repeatedly. Their flimsy nests generally require reconstruction each year, however.
Tawny Frogmouth eggs are pure white in colour. This is in stark contrast with the highly cryptic colouration of the adults, but since the eggs are always attended by a brooding parent, they remain unseen by predators. Each egg measures 37-51 mm in length and 25-34 mm in width.
Baby Tawny Frogmouths are somewhere in between altricial and precocial when they hatch. They are not born naked like altricial species and their eyes open quite soon after hatching. Nevertheless, the chicks are bound to their nest and reliant on their parents for food.
Baby Tawny Frogmouths are covered in pure white fluffy down when they hatch. After a week or so their feathers will change into a greyish colour with some patterning that improves their camouflage in the nest.
Tawny Frogmouth babies grow relatively slowly and are only roughly half the weight of their parents when they first leave the nest.
A pair of Tawny Frogmouth babies (chicks)
Tawny Frogmouths usually lay their eggs in the spring between September and October. The timing of mating and egg laying is thought to be determined by changing day length or other environmental cues.
Tawny Frogmouths do not nest within cavities and will therefore not nest inside a nest box.
Tawny Frogmouth chick in between breeding pair of adults
Tawny Frogmouths spend the day resting on large tree branches. They prefer to roost on trees with rough bark where their incredible camouflage is most effective. While nesting, the male bird spends the day sitting on the eggs. He incubates the eggs to maintain a stable temperature and keep them hidden from predators.
Tawny Frogmouths frequently nest in suburban areas with appropriate trees and habitats. They generally prefer to nest in large native eucalypts with rough bark. Planting such trees is recommended to create future nesting sites for the species.
Tawny Frogmouth chick inside the nest with an adult
Tawny Frogmouths do not readily abandon their nests. These territorial birds will drive off any other Frogmouths that enter their space, but they also have some effective methods to deter predators from the nest.
Tawny Frogmouths will mob and peck at potential predators to drive them from their nests, but if this is unsuccessful, they can even spray faeces onto the unwelcome visitor. It is not wise to disturb nesting Frogmouths, for their sake and for yours!
Tawny Frogmouths form very strong pair bonds. A pair will mate for life and spend much of their time together within their shared territory. They will often roost within a few meters of each other, or even huddled together shoulder to shoulder on the same branch.
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