A friendly neighbour came up to me at the shops last week and told me of a family of Tawny Frogmouths that roosted every day in trees at the vacant block right near his house in Parkerville. “They’re there all the time if you’d like to come up and get a photo. My son has taken some good shots of them already!” Yesterday I drove up to the location he described to me, and sure enough, there were two birds (one adult and one juvenile) sitting low down in a Marri sapling. As I climbed through the fence, I noticed another two: one juvenile in an adjacent tree and another adult in the tree behind him.
The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is a well-known Australian night bird with an expertise for camouflage. Did you just read that scientific name, struggle to pronounce it, and wonder what the hell it means?! Well, all animals are given two scientific names because they are sorted into families, genera and species according to their evolutionary relationships. The scientific name is often of Greek or Latin origins and it contains words which describe that animal. The species name ‘strig-oigdes’ comes from this bird looking like an owl: ‘strig’ after the name of the owl family Strigidae, and ‘oides’ meaning ‘like’ or ‘similar to’.
All this is very interesting because as you might have now guessed, Tawny Frogmouths are NOT actually owls, although they are very similar to them: both have brown or grey plumage, large, forward facing eyes, wings capable of flapping in silence, and are active at night. Owls from the family Strigidae also use their eyes to hunt (as do Frogmouths), rather than their ears as in some other owl families. The only species of owl which is similar to the Tawny Frogmouth and occurs here in Parkerville is the Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae). It’s two-noted ‘book-book’ or ‘mor-porke’ call can often be heard echoing across the valleys of the Perth hills and is familiar to many people. Some people have even said to me “What’s that cuckoo that calls at night?”. Frogmouths on the other hand have a low, booming call which doesn’t travel very far at all. Some photos of the Southern Boobook can be seen in this album.
Anyway, back to our family of Froggies! They were so low down that I could get quite close, and snapped lots of photos of their changing postures. The two together straightened out into the usual frogmouth ‘stick-like’ pose, moving only their eyes as they watched me adjust my camera. Their feathers were so well matched to the Marri bark that the birds look exactly like broken off stumps on the side of the tree!