Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The lowdown on Frogmouths

Painting of Tawny Frogmouth by Prue Sailer

Letter to the Editor in The Daily Examiner on 15 September 2014:

Frogmouth, not owl

THERE have been a couple of photographs of tawny frogmouths on page 2 of The Daily Examiner in recent days with them being called owls.
Frogmouths are not owls, despite their nocturnal habits and when examined closely can be seen to be quite different to owls.
Owls catch their prey with their feet (talons), frogmouths have weak feet and catch their prey with their large broad bills.
Their large mouths are similar to the large mouths of frogs, hence the name frogmouth.
The scientific name of the tawny frogmouth, our local representative (there are other species in Australia and other parts of the world), is Podargus strigoides. 'Pod' means foot and 'argus' means weak.
So if they were owls they would starve because they wouldn't be able to use their feet to catch prey.
They are like nocturnal kookaburras in the way that they hunt.
The broad mouth is a throwback to a time when their ancestors hunted for flying prey, hence the broad mouth like those of swallows and dollarbirds.
Other differences with owls are that frogmouths have longer tails and the eyes are set more to the sides of the head, unlike owls which are at the front of the head.
Frogmouths don't 'hoot' or call like the southern boobook's 'boo-book', but make a machine-like repeated 'oom'.

Dr Greg P. Clancy
Coutts Crossing

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