The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is a celebrated Australian bird. They are the most widespread of three frogmouth species found in Mainland Australia. These relatives of the nightjar family have powerful eyes and immense mouths to help capture their prey after dark.
Tawny Frogmouths are carnivorous hunters of insects, invertebrates, and small animals like small lizards, birds and mammals. These superbly camouflaged ambush hunters watch for prey from a perch and fly down to catch it on the ground.
It is difficult to observe Tawny Frogmouths feeding because of their nocturnal habits but studies done on the stomach content of deceased birds have provided good data on the composition of their diet at different times of the year.
These fascinating birds have some important adaptations to help them survive the harsh winter months, including the ability to store large amounts of fat and even enter torpor.
Read this article to learn all about the diet of the wonderful Tawny Frogmouth.
Tawny Frogmouths have a diverse diet
Wild Tawny Frogmouths are opportunistic hunters of live prey. They eat a very wide variety of different invertebrates and even small animals like mice. Most of their prey are caught on the ground, although they also feed on some flying insects.
The following orders of invertebrates are important components of the Tawny Frogmouth diet:
Tawny Frogmouths may look like owls, but these birds from the nightjar family don’t have well-developed feet and talons for grasping their prey.
Plant material has been found in the stomach contents of Tawny Frogmouths but it is probably the result of accidental ingestion while capturing prey with their enormous mouths.
Continue reading to learn about the larger prey items that Tawny Frogmouths have been known to eat.
Close up of a Tawny Frogmouth
The bulk of the Tawny Frogmouths’ diet consists of invertebrates like insects, although they are known to feed on small vertebrate animals when available. Small birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals are all taken from time to time.
The following animals have been recorded in the Tawny Frogmouth diet:
Tawny Frogmouths are difficult to observe due to their nocturnal habits, but they will feed quite frequently throughout the night when prey is readily available. This is evidenced by the often large numbers of individual prey items found in their stomachs. The number of meals they will take also depends on the size of the prey, however.
Tawny Frogmouths feed heavily in the summer and autumn to lay down fat reserves for the winter. These energy reserves maintain the birds when some insects become scarce and maintaining their body temperature requires more energy in the cold weather.
Tawny Frogmouths can go without eating for extended periods at this time by entering torpor, which is a short form of hibernation.
A small flock of Tawny Frogmouths perched in a tree
Tawny Frogmouths use their large, powerful eyes to spot their prey after dark. They hunt from a perched position, looking out for insects and small animals on the ground below.
Tawny Frogmouths often hunt from poles at the roadside, leading to many being struck by passing cars. They will also catch flying insects like moths from the air, a task made easier by their cavernous mouths.
Tawny Frogmouths do not visit feeders because they do not feed on birdseed, nectar, fruit, or any food that people are likely to put out for birds.
Tawny Frogmouths are nocturnal hunters, which makes it fairly difficult to study their feeding habits
Tawny Frogmouths are nocturnal birds that hunt and eat after dark. These birds rely on their incredible camouflage to stay undetected by day as they rest on the branches of mature trees.
Tawny Frogmouths adapt their diet in the winter somewhat depending on prey availability. Small vertebrates, caterpillars, cockroaches and centipedes are eaten more frequently during the coldest months in some areas.
Tawny Frogmouths are unusual among birds in that they can enter torpor during very cold weather. At this time, they stop feeding and allow their body temperature to drop quite significantly. This allows them to save energy in extreme conditions when prey is scarce.
Tawny Frogmouth roosting high up in a tree
Tawny Frogmouths feed heavily in the summer when their prey is abundant. They are able to lay down significant fat stores to see them through leaner times.
In the summer, Tawny Frogmouths will feed on the full range of invertebrates and small mammals that comprise their diet.
A study on the stomach contents of specimens from eastern New South Wales revealed that moths and spiders are more commonly eaten in the summer than in the winter.
Baby Tawny Frogmouths are fed by both of their parents for the 25 to 35 days they spend in the nest as hatchlings. Their dutiful parents will continue to feed them for a week or two after fledging the nest.
Little data has been collected on the composition of their diet but presumably, they are fed similar prey items to what the adult birds eat.
Adult Tawny Frogmouth with two young chicks
Wild Tawny Frogmouths are very difficult to feed. If you manage to spot any of these unusual birds during the day they will be roosting and should not be disturbed.
Tawny Frogmouths feed on insects, other invertebrates, and small animals like mice, birds, and frogs. Maintaining a healthy garden full of native plants is a great way to provide good hunting grounds for these interesting birds to feed themselves.
A pair of Tawny Frogmouths resting in a tree
Tawny Frogmouths will not be attracted to regular offerings like bird seed and fruit. You are unlikely to be able to feed a wild Tawny Frogmouth because of their nocturnal habits, specialised diet and hunting technique.
It is best to Contact the Wildlife Rescue organisation if you find a sick or injured Tawny Frogmouth before attempting to feed it yourself.
Tawny Frogmouths do not often drink water. Their prey has a high moisture content, which is sufficient to keep the birds well hydrated.
Tawny Frogmouth perched in a lilypilly tree
Tawny Frogmouths will be most attracted to nature gardens that provide a safe haven for a variety of Australian wildlife. One of their key habitat requirements is mature trees, particularly species that have rough bark. Consider planting a few trees if you have the space.
Tawny Frogmouths are known to take advantage of insects attracted to artificial lights. A small light set up on a post in your garden could provide them with a great hunting site.
Tawny Frogmouths are fantastic birds to have around because they feed on bugs and other critters that aren’t always welcome around our homes.
Encourage these unique birds by providing them with a safe environment to live and breed in your neighbourhood.
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