Skip to content

This Is Northern New South Wales

The Nightjars

In one of the quieter streets of Byron Bay I’ve been photographing a pair of Tawny Frogmouth for about six years, locals in the street say they’ve been there for some fifteen years.

When I show my grandkids and godchildren I tell them they’re the ‘old married couple’ and they always remember them. They are just like an old married couple often sitting right next

to each other and sometimes on different branches. They’re a great indicator of the weather, when they’re on a certain branch I know it’ll be beautiful the next day because

they love to snooze there in the sun.

Most people don’t look up and even if they do their camouflage is so good they blend into the bark of the tree. If someone comes close they close their eyes, point their beak upwards and

pretend to be branch. Quite often curiosity gets the better of them, especially the juveniles, and they’ll open one eye and check you out. They’re quite used to me and will stare at me

and then disdainfully point their bill up and close their eyes. Once in awhile I get a little close or they’re a bit grumpy and one will make a loud clacking noise with their beak or, even better,

they’ll emit a reverberating booming call.

Many people think they’re owls but although related to owls, frogmouths are more closely related to Nightjars.

Frogmouths and owls have anisodactyl feet – meaning that one toe is facing backwards and the other three face forwards. However Frogmouth have fairly weak feet as they use

their beaks to catch prey. Owls eat small mammals, like mice and rats, so their bones are shorter and stronger than those of the Frogmouth which usually hunt for smaller prey.

They typically wait for their prey to come to them, only rarely hunting on the wing like owls.

The bulk of the Tawny Frogmouth’s diet is made up of nocturnal insects, worms, slugs and snails. Small mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds are also eaten. Most food is obtained by pouncing to the ground

from a tree or other elevated perch. Some prey items, such as moths, are caught in flight. The leading edges of the first primary (wing) feathers of the Tawny Frogmouth are feathered for silent flight.

Their general plumage is silver-grey, slightly paler below, streaked and mottled with black and rufous. A second plumage phase also occurs, with birds being russet-red.

They have yellow eyes and a wide beak topped with a tuft of bristly feathers.

They are nocturnal birds (night birds). During the day, they perch on tree branches, often low down, camouflaged as part of the tree.

Frogmouths have a regular breeding season, but birds in more arid areas may breed in response to heavy rains. Both sexes incubate the eggs. The male sits during the day, but both sexes share sitting at night

and both help care for the young. The nest is a loose platform of sticks, which is usually placed on a horizontal forked tree branch. Normally only one brood is raised in a season, but birds from the south may have two.

There are many unfortunate instances of Tawny Frogmouths being hit by cars while chasing insects illuminated in the beam of the headlights as they will often hunt low to

the ground. They stay together until one dies and sadly one of the pair I photograph, the male, was hit by someone driving too fast in the street at dusk. I was so upset, as were the neighbours,

and people just kept driving over him until he was completely flattened into the road. I’m happy to see that the female is now sitting with another Frogmouth but I suspect

it could be one of her offspring … however that’s just a ‘feeling’. Since her mate was killed they stay higher up in the tree and very rarely come to sit in the sun on what was

their favourite branch.

Please drive slowly on our roads at night, I’ve seen Barn Owls flying around in town too and they get stunning by the headlights. If you find an injured bird please wrap it in a

blanket or soft cloth, place it in a box in a quiet dark place until you can take it to the vet or call Wires. You can also contact me through

I believe many birds and animals die unnecessarily from trauma which occurs when people keep handling them, they are wild so please keep handling, movement

and noise to an absolute minimum where possible.’