Ozark - the Australian Wildlife Carer's Information & Communications Network

Fri - Aug 25


By Kathryn Keen

I've always had a soft spot for the tawny frogmouth, and have cared for and raised a great many of them over the past 15 years, and have specialised in them over recent years. Many people mistakenly think that the tawny frogmouth is a raptor, but it is not. The tawny frogmouth does not have large talons, nor the tearing beak of a raptor. In fact, tawny frogmouths are more closely related to the nightjar and the kookaburra. Tawny frogmouths eat primarily spiders, beetles, cockroaches and other arthropods. They also will consume moths, (and are particularly fond of the large bogon moths), and frogs. Only occasionally will tawny frogmouths eat small rodents, reptiles or birds; the major component of their diet being primarily insectivorous.


Hit by Car:
Tawny frogmouths will often hunt by roadsides, and can be blinded by car headlights, which can result in collision. Considering the comparative weight and speed of the car to the tawny frogmouth, injuries can obviously be extreme. However, surprisingly enough, quite a number of tawnies do survive collision with cars, provided they are treated promptly and have good recuperative care. Often a vet will administer a corticosteroid, (such as Dexadresone or Dexamethasone), to treat swelling and bruising, particularly in cases of concussion and/or possible spinal trauma. This must be given within the first 24 hours, to obtain optimum benefit. The results of this treatment (where appropriate) are often quite remarkable. However, the bird must be given proper shock treatment and be kept indoors and in a confined dark space, and kept extremely quiet, to enable initial recovery.



Our overuse of pesticides can have disastrous effects on wildlife, and tawny frogmouths are particularly susceptible to pesticide poisoning. As stated above, tawny frogmouths eat mainly spiders, cockroaches and various other bugs – the common creatures that people often poison as 'pests'. Some pesticides are stored in fat deposits, and can build up in the body over time. When the birds become leaner towards the end of winter or at breeding time, (or in fact at any times of stress), the fat deposits are utilised, and the toxins released.

These unfortunate birds may come into care in a terribly distressed state, twitching and fitting. They may sometimes be found on the ground with slight tremors, only to begin major convulsions a few hours later. Poisoned tawny frogmouths may begin a loud and distressing screaming, which often occurs in the later stages of pesticide poisoning. Any noise or activity around the bird, as well as heat, will aggravate the condition, and may set off the convulsions and screaming again. It is therefore kindest to keep the bird fairly cool and as quiet as possible until it can be taken to a vet. Many treatments have been tried to help these birds, and some studies have been done on the problem.

Never release a bird that has been recently having convulsions, fitting, or tremors, just because it may have stopped for a while. This is a serious condition, and you would only be sending the bird to a cruel and painful death if you release it too soon. If the bird appears to have only minor symptoms, then administering charcoal tablets crushed in the food, and keeping up a large supply of food, can sometimes help in the short-term. The vet may administer Atropine and Valium in these cases, so you should ask about whether this treatment would be worth considering when taking the bird to the vet. However, in many of these cases, the long-term outlook is not good, and this treatment should be tried only if the bird is taken into care in the early stages of poisoning, and must be given immediately. Unfortunately, by the time a poisoned tawny comes down to the ground, it is usually already in a pretty bad way. If a poisoned tawny frogmouth is full-on fitting and screaming, it is likely to be too late, and may be kindest to have the bird euthanised as soon as possible.

Prevention is better than cure, and using less pesticides, and where necessary, using more environmentally friendly products, is the only way to stop this problem from occurring. Fortunately, many of the pesticides which caused the mass poisonings of tawnies that we used to see regularly around a decade ago, are now banned in most states of Australia. However, some still may be used by pest control companies in certain cases.

Whilst we still can see that poisoning events often tend to occur in areas where residents have recently had pest controllers treating outdoors areas for spiders etc., it at least does not occur with the regularity that we used to see these unfortunate cases come in. However, it's important to be aware of this possibility, and certainly if a poisoning event in an area is found to have affected a number of birds, or any other wildlife; it is important to contact your appropriate local Environment Protection Agency, and the Australian Wildlife Health Network, to try to track down the cause as soon as possible. The bodies of poisoned birds may be wrapped in at least 2 layers of plastic, and refrigerated (not frozen) for a short time for testing purposes, in order to track down the cause. Responsible disposal of the bodies of poisoned wildlife is also an important consideration.

(See article on pesticides for more information).

Fledgling tawny frogmouths found on the groud:
Quite often fledgling tawny frogmouths may be “rescued” by well-meaning people, or by carers who are unaware that these young may leave the nest a few days before they can actually fly. The juvenile bird may stay on or near the ground, sometimes on fences or low branches, and the parent birds will often be nearby to look after their offspring. This time is important for the young bird to learn from it’s parents how to catch food, and also to practice short, (sometimes clumsy), flights to enable it to gain proficiency. When people see the young bird on or near the ground, particularly at day time, they may assume that the bird has lost it’s parents, and may pick it up to take into care. However; as long as the bird is not in danger from neighbourhood cats and dogs, foxes, or other predators, and is not on a road, it's best to leave the bird alone, or if necessary, place in a low branch of a nearby tree. This can be attempted providing someone is able to observe the bird over the following day or so, to ensure that the parent birds are around, and the juvenile is safe. Often, the parent birds will be nearby, and will continue caring for their offspring; the juvenile bird will soon be able to fly, and all will be well.

However, in some situations there may be danger from cats, dogs, foxes, or cars, (if found by roadside); or from neighbourhood children. In these cases, where the fledgeling would not be safe to be left, it is best brought into care to ensure it's survival. The decision will need to be based on the circumstances in each case.

Sometimes the white downy tawny frogmouth chick may be found on the ground, having fallen from the nest, and these should always be taken into care, as they would be too young to survive. You can tell the difference because the fledgelings are much larger than the white fluffy chicks; they are more like a smaller version of the adult; though with a more “fluffy” appearance. The fledgelings will have full flight feathers, and the feathers will not be in quill. Where the feathers are still in quill form, the chick will be unable to fly.

When rescued, tawny frogmouth juveniles should preferably be taken to an experienced tawny frogmouth carer, where they can be placed with other tawny frogmouths and raised in groups, in suitable, appropriate facilities. Tawny frogmouths will feed better, are much more settled, and will be less stressed, when placed with other tawny frogmouths. Tawny frogmouth chicks and juveniles are less likely to become tamed and imprinted if reared with other tawnies. This is one case where non-releasable birds can be extremely valuable as 'companion birds' to those being hand-raised, or rehabbed from injuries.

Tawny frogmouths are generally very easy-going with one another, and will settle very quickly when housed with other tawnies. In my aviaries, I've had a wonderful pair of non-releasable tawnies for some time now, which will take any juveniles or chicks introduced to them "under their wing"  (literally in some cases!); and immediately begin nurturing and sheltering them. The newcomers quickly respond to this nurturing and accept these birds as foster parents. This has been a great way to avoid imprinting juveniles. Tawny frogmouths are fairly placid, easy-going birds by nature, and do tend to become very tame, and imprint easily when hand-raised - particularly if they are raised on their own. This is, of course, a major reason why tawny frogmouth juveniles should always be cared for together in groups, rather than raised on their own.

Tawny frogmouths are extremely cute and appealing chicks and juveniles, and some people who rescue them may wish to hold on to them, even if they are not licensed wildlife carers. But in the interest of the bird's ultimate survival and release prospects, it's very important to put the bird's needs first, and to have them reared in proper facilities, with other tawny frogmouths, wherever possible.

Tawny frogmouths are a protected species, and so must be placed in care with a properly trained and equipped wildlife carer. You can usually find your local wildlife care group in your phone book. If you find an injured or orphaned tawny frogmouth, you can also take it to your local vet. I won't cost you anything.

Extreme care must be taken if providing electrolyte replacement or fluids to debilitated tawny frogmouths, as fluid inhalation is a significant risk. Never try to give liquids orally to tawny frogmouths, as they will usually regurgitate fluids given by mouth - including fluids given via crop needle. This creates a very real risk of drowning. As with any other animal in care, fresh water should be supplied and replaced daily. Whilst tawny frogmouths are rarely seen drinking water, they should always have access to clean fresh water, and in very hot weather may perch at the edge of the water container.



  • The Tawny Frogmouth lives in open forest and eucalypt and acacia woodlands throughout Australia. Tawny frogmouths in SE Australia are much larger than those in Northern areas of Australia.

  • Tawny Frogmouths are sedentary and live in pairs. Territory ranges from 20 – 80 hectares. Breeds August – December, usually only one brood per season.  Both parents share equally in parenting the duties.  They build a platform 3-15 metres off the ground, or sometimes use tree stumps or existing empty nests.   They usually nest in the same site each year.  Two white rounded eggs are incubated for around 28-32days by both sexes.  Young fledge in 25-35days.

  • Tawny Frogmouths usually hunt by pouncing from a low perch or vantage point.  The main prey is large nocturnal arthropods such as spiders, centipedes and cockroaches.

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