Tawny Frogmouth

The Tawny Frogmouth: World’s Most Instagrammable Bird

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Tawny frogmouths are nocturnal, big-headed, big-mouthed birds native to Australia and Tasmania.

Though they may look similar to owls in shape and size, frogmouths are more closely related to nightjars, owlet-nightjars, potoos, and even swifts and hummingbirds, with which they share the Vanescaves clade.

There’s still much to be learned about these interesting birds. In 2007, a new species of frogmouth was established, with the Solomons frogmouth placed in its own newly-established genus.

The general public is getting a lot more familiar with frogmouth species, including the tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), due in part to social media. Let’s get to know this fascinating bird a little more.

What Does It Look Like?

According to a study from researchers in Germany, frogmouths are the most Instagram-friendly bird family in the world according to an image aesthetic appeal (IAA) metric, which measures Instagram likes per view.

Despite lacking much flare in terms of color, it’s easy to see why people are drawn to frogmouths: their large heads make them look like owls with mouths nearly as wide as their faces.

The tawny frogmouth’s brown streaks closely match the bark on a tree, and their gray bills do little to give them away until they open them wide, revealing an unmissable yellow gape.

Tawny Frogmouth gray bill

How Big Is It?

The tawny frogmouth typically averages between eight and 21 inches with a wingspan of between 25 and 38 inches, according to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

They weigh up to 1.5 pounds.

Range and Habitat

Tawny frogmouths are native to Australia and Tasmania. There are three subspecies spread throughout their range.

While their natural camouflage and nocturnal nature might make it seem like they want to be seen as little as possible, tawny frogmouths are frequently seen within their range as they wait out the daylight hours tucked away among the tree branches.

They can tolerate a variety of habitat types as long as there are the right amount of trees. According to Bush Heritage Australia, an Australian conservation non-profit, arid areas or dense rainforests don’t typically support many tawny frogmouths.

They take up residence in woodlands, parks, and suburbs, where they are more likely to be spotted by birdwatchers.

What Does It Sound Like?

Tawny frogmouths make a pulsing, rhythmic noise like you can hear here in this recording from Australia’s eastern coast:

While that clear recording may make them seem a bit loud, the recordist, Mike FitzGerald, said the bird was right overhead, about four meters away.

Birds further away may have to contend with other noises, natural and unnatural, with their gentle pulsing like the beat of a distant concert:

They also make a drumming sound, which can be heard in this recording from northern Australia:

What Does It Eat?

It’s no secret that more insects often come out at night, and that’s perfectly fine for these nighttime predators.

According to the Ambassador Animal Resource and Information Center, the tawny frogmouth’s diet is nearly 80 percent insects, with 18 percent consisting of centipedes and spiders and 4 percent larger prey like frogs, lizards, and rodents.

How Long Does It Live?

Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny frogmouths can live up to 14 years, according to Bush Heritage Australia, which also states that they may spend upwards of a decade in the same territory.


Tawny frogmouths breed for life. Their breeding season runs from August to December each year, kickstarted by heavy seasonal rains, according to the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

The Wildlife Alliance also states that they will re-use nesting sites each year, performing some upkeep with leaves, feathers, mosses, or other available materials.

Conservation Status

The tawny frogmouth was listed as a species “of least concern” in its most recent IUCN Red List assessment, with IUCN listing its population trend as “stable.”

The assessment, conducted by BirdLife International in 2016, stated that while there isn’t currently a full population count, it is not likely to meet the “vulnerable” criteria, which would require less than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline of 10 percent or higher within three generations or 10 years.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Tawny Frogmouth an Owl?

No, tawny frogmouths are not owls, even though some people may even mistakenly include the word “owl” in their name.

They’re more closely related to nightjars than they are owls, despite some physical similarities to the latter.

Are Frogmouths Related to Hummingbirds?

While it might seem like they couldn’t be further from one another, frogmouths are actually more closely related to hummingbirds than they are to owls.

Hummingbirds and frogmouths are members of the Vanescaves clade.

Why Are They Called Frogmouths?

The name “frogmouth” refers to the wide shape of the frogmouth’s signature mouth, which resembles a frog’s.

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