Tawny Frogmouth

Podargus strigoides Order: Caprimulgiformes Family: Podargidae

Overview

  • Tawny frogmouths are unusual, charismatic birds that will engage the audience at first sight.  Though common throughout most of Australia and Tasmania, most American zoo audiences will not be familiar with the frogmouth and will be thirsty for information.  Ambassador tawny frogmouths can be trained to sit calmly on hand, and are generally more apt to work well for less experienced staff than their raptor counterparts.  The tawny frogmouth SSP is cooperative with ambassador requests, which also makes this a responsibly sustainable species to add to an ambassador group.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Tawny frogmouths are found in a variety of habitats throughout mainland Australia and Tasmania.  They are less apt to be found in dense rainforest and treeless desert areas.  Tawny frogmouths have adapted to living in proximity with humans and can be found in populated areas as well.

Longevity

Average lifespan in human care is 20-30 years.  Median life expectancy in the native habitat is 4-5 years.

Ecosystem Role

Frogmouths feed on a large variety of invertebrates such as beetles, locusts, and grasshoppers.  In doing so, frogmouths are integral in controlling these populations and therefore play an important role in their native habitat, particularly agricultural areas.

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

The Tawny Frogmouth SSP recommends a minimum housing size of 6’x4’x6’ for a single bird.

  • Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information 
  • Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
  • Frogmouths are tolerant of cold weather. With access to a shelter with a heat source, and afforded protection from wind and blowing snow/rain, frogmouths can be housed outdoors down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, back up housing should be available in cases where the frogmouth demonstrates signs of cold-related stress, or if low temperatures are predicted for a prolonged period of time. One must also consider that if there is a significant difference in temperature between the temporary and primary housing, that the bird’s ability to move back outside may be delayed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, special care should also be taken with temperatures over 90 degrees, such as misters, fans, and additional shade.
      • Frogmouths housed outdoors will make use of opportunities to sunbathe.
  • Frogmouths housed indoors seem to do well with temperatures within typical human comfort ranges.  A basking light area will sometimes be used by frogmouths housed indoors.
  • Tawny frogmouths are nocturnal birds, though they seem to adapt well to the diurnal schedule of ambassador life.  To see a different side of your ambassador frogmouth, set up a camera at night!
    • Substrate
      • Substrate such as mulch or leaf litter over natural earth or cement with proper drainage is recommended.
  • Social Housing/Colony Management
      • Ambassador tawny frogmouths have traditionally been hand-reared.
      • Ambassador frogmouths can be housed singly, in pairs (same or different sex), or small same-sex groups.
      • Akron Zoo: Their hand-reared male ambassador frogmouth was asked to join the breeding population at the age of 11.  Akron received a 1-year old female from Sea World Orlando and introductions occurred without incident.  Though the birds have not produced any viable eggs, they do engage in breeding behavior.  The male incubates the eggs on the nest during the day, so during these times, the female is used for programming.  The male does occasionally show signs of aggression toward handlers (vocalizing, lunging with beak) during breeding season.
  • Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
    • The Tawny Frogmouth SSP recommends a minimum housing size of 6’x4’x6’ for a single bird. 
    • Akron Zoo: Their frogmouth breeding pair has been successfully introduced to living with the ambassador 3-banded armadillo during the winter; the frogmouths are housed outdoors during warmer weather.  Initial introductions occurred during the day when staff could monitor, and eventually moved to overnight episodes with a camera set up to monitor.  Review of nighttime footage has yet to reveal any direct interactions between the frogmouths and armadillo, but the frogmouths are very interested in the nighttime activity of the armadillo.  Other behaviors demonstrated by the birds at night are similar to nocturnal behaviors observed prior to living with the armadillo.

Diet Requirements

  • Diet in the Wild 
    • Frogmouths are primarily insectivorous. The majority of their diet consists of insects (78%); spiders and centipedes make up a further 18%, and the remainder (4%) are terrestrial vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and rodents (Kaplan 2007). Similar to birds of prey, indigestible components of the diet (i.e. hair, exoskeletons) are regurgitated in the form of a cast.

  •  Diet under human care
    • Diets consisting of mealworms/Zoophobes, crickets and hopper mice are appropriate for the species. Mice pinkies and extra insects should be offered in addition to the adult diet during chick-rearing.
    • Frogmouths should be offered a source of water in their enclosure, but they typically obtain most of their water needs through their food.
    • Hand-feeding frogmouths has historically been a common occurrence in AZA zoos, and no reasons have been offered to support or justify the belief that frogmouths must be hand-fed to survive. There are, of course, possible exceptions where hand-feeding might be necessary to ensure the condition of an aging or medically compromised bird, but healthy and fully-functional frogmouths are very capable of self-feeding and self-regulating their own weights. Since the SSP was initiated, several institutions have successfully transitioned their frogmouths from hand-feeding to self-feeding. An example of the process for this transition is outlined in Sea World Orlando’s paper on frogmouth husbandry (link below).
    • Frogmouths are capable of self-regulating their weights without human intervention/hand-feeding. Micromanaging food consumption and weights, as is commonly done with raptors, should be avoided and is not considered best practice by the SSP for healthy frogmouths, especially for pairs recommended for breeding.
    • Woodland Park Zoo: As fall approaches, food consumption for self-feeding frogmouths at the Woodland Park Zoo increases dramatically, and the diet is offered ad lib. 

Veterinary Concerns

  • Frogmouths experience significant seasonal weight fluctuations, and it is common and perfectly normal for a frogmouth to almost double its body weight and have significant fat deposits during the winter months (Nov-Feb). A reasonable weight range during the breeding season is 350-425g, while winter weights in the 500-700g range are not uncommon.
  • Frogmouths are able to induce periods of torpor which may lower their heart rate and body temperature to ranges lower than expected.

Enrichment & Training

Enrichment

  • Behavioral Relevant Information
      • Frogmouths may not engage with provided enrichment to their full extent during the day.  Cameras can be utilized at night to observe how the bird interacts with its surroundings to help guide keepers in providing appropriate and purposeful enrichment.
  • Environmental Enrichment 
  • Perching changes
  • Substrate changes
  • Location change of basking lamp
      • Basking lamps of different temperatures
  • Water tubs of varying size and depth 
      • Misters/sprinklers
      • Opportunities to spend time outside for birds housed indoors
      • Leafy browse placed in holding as hide areas
      • Various hide houses (i.e. cardboard box, wood house, paper bag, etc.)
  • Behavioral Enrichment 
  • Chances to observe other animals, either by bringing other ambassadors to exercise where the frogmouth can see, or by touring the frogmouth to an area to watch other animals in their houses
      • Watching videos
        • Akron Zoo: Their male frogmouth responds strongly to watching in particular a rainforest animals DVD with the room lights off
      • Auditory enrichment (i.e. other bird calls, insect sounds, rodent sounds)
      • Training sessions
      • Multiple feeding platforms
      • Feeder insects scattered in hay/straw (be mindful of potential ingestion issues)
      • Bundles of hay/straw/shredded paper hung in holding
      • Opportunities to hunt live insects
      • For frogmouths housed outdoors, a light placed in the vicinity of their holding will attract insects for viewing
  • Schedule 
      • Akron Zoo: Their frogmouths receive enrichment a minimum of 2x week
  • Other Enrichment Resources 

Training

    • The Tawny Frogmouth SSP does support the use of jesses for ambassador frogmouths as a means of flight management. The SSP recognizes that the use of jesses comes with inherent risk to any bird, not just non-raptors. The SSP promotes the importance of proper staff training in the use of jesses, that jesses be removed when the bird is in its home enclosure; and that jessed frogmouths be stoic in temperament so that jesses are not tested with any frequency.
    • The Tawny Frogmouth SSP does not support wing clipping as a means of flight management for ambassador frogmouths.
    • The IAATE (International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators) position statement on jesses is to not use jesses on non-raptors. http://iaate.org/pdfs/PositionStatement_Tethering.pdf
  • Behaviors Trained
    • Reinforcement on a fixed schedule is useful for training voluntary step up to hand, scale, and kennel
      • Positive reinforcement can also be used in training acceptance of jesses being applied, if jesses are used
      • Accepting of tactile can also be trained and is useful for physical exams and potentially nail trims
  • Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement 
    • Any preferred regular diet items or treat items (i.e. wax worms)

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

  • Tawny frogmouths are monogamous birds.  Bonded pairs often perch close together, even leaning into one another.  The male often preens the female.  Breeding season is generally August to December.
  • Though ambassador frogmouths are hand-reared birds, even imprinted individuals have been able to successfully join the SSP breeding program.
    • Akron Zoo: Their hand-reared male ambassador frogmouth was asked to join the breeding population at the age of 11.  Akron Zoo received a 1-year old female from Sea World Orlando and introductions occurred without incident.  Though the birds have not produced any viable eggs, they do engage in breeding behavior.  
  • Pairs share incubation duties at night, but the male incubates during the day.
    • Akron Zoo: The male incubates the eggs in the nest during the day, so during these times, the female is used for programming.  The male does occasionally show signs of aggression toward handlers (vocalizing, lunging with beak) during breeding season.

Individual Identification

There is little to no dimorphism in tawny frogmouths.  As for identifying individuals, there can be slight differences in amount/color of feather barring.  Individual personalities can also be used to distinguish birds housed together.

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes

  • Compare the frogmouth to an owl to show morphological and physiological differences and similarities
  • Highlight similarities between frogmouths and U.S. native nightjars
  • Educate on the differences between carnivorous bird adaptations
  • Domestic dogs and cats will hunt frogmouths, which can be related to the many songbirds killed by both pet and feral cats in the U.S.
  • Frogmouths are often exposed to toxins from pesticides they ingest when feeding on insects and rodents; discuss natural pest control alternatives with audience members
  • Frogmouths are often hit by cars while hunting; discuss ways to be a proactive driver in avoiding wildlife-vehicle collisions
  • With so few ambassador animals being managed species, frogmouths provide an excellent opportunity to talk about SSPs

Threats and Conservation Status

  • Listed by IUCN as Least Concern
  • They do face threats from habitat destruction and bushfires 

Interesting Natural History Information

  • The species name portion of the scientific name for tawny frogmouth, strigoides, comes from the Latin words for owl (strix) and form (oides)

Did you know…

  • Tawny frogmouths use torpor (a state of lowered physiological activity typically characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature) at night as a means of conserving energy during periods of cold, winter temperatures when invertebrate food may be less available. They are one of the largest birds known to use this strategy.
  • Their tongue has a long, translucent, paper-like tip, the function of which is not known.
  • Unlike most other birds, frogmouths do not have preen (oil) glands. Instead, they have two large patches of powder-down on each side of their rump that helps make their plumage waterproof.
  • The bristle-like feathers around the frogmouth’s beak help to protect them from bites/stings from their prey

Handling & Presentation Tips

  • Frogmouths can be handled without a glove. They will sit on a flat hand or on a fist. It is important to provide a wide surface on which it can perch since frogmouths cannot grip with their feet.
  • Pay attention to body posture as this can tell you if the bird is stressed. “Stumping” is a posture a frogmouth uses to camouflage itself from predators; this posture during programming could indicate a level of stress.
  • A sharp cackling noise, fluffed plumage and open mouth posture may also indicate stress.

Use Guidelines

  • The Tawny Frogmouth Animal Advisory Group suggests a 30 minutes on / 10 minutes rest during programming
  • It is also recognized that all birds are individuals and some may tolerate more or less than the above recommendation
  • Program use guidelines may also need to be altered based on time of day; frogmouths are nocturnal and will likely be more alert and animated during evening programs

Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Frogmouths are generally presented on a flat hand, either with or without jesses
  • Frogmouths may also be presented on a perch or stand of some sort
  • It is imperative that the handler be familiar with the bird to instruct the public on a safe distance for approach

Transportation Tips

  • Most frogmouths will feel more comfortable if the carrier is covered, while still allowing for proper ventilation, during transport
  • Some frogmouths prefer to have a perch in the carrier; if a perch is used, it should be wide enough for the bird to comfortably sit and be of a texture which the bird can grip (i.e. natural wood perch or dowel rod covered with astroturf, carpet, etc.)
  • If a perch is used in the carrier, the carrier should be placed in the vehicle so that the perch is perpendicular to the wheel axle; this helps the bird to brace itself during acceleration and braking
  • If no perch is used in the carrier, an appropriate substrate for footing security should be provided 

Crating Techniques

  • Frogmouths can be trained to step up from holding and then be placed in a carrier, or can also be trained to enter the carrier on their own directly from the holding

Temperature Guidelines

  • Tawny frogmouths are quite tolerant of both heat and cold, though extremes (above 90 degrees, below 20 degrees) should be avoided or compensated with shade/fans/misting or supplemental heat/protection from wind gusts

Acquisition Information

  • Contact Mark Myers, Tawny Frogmouth SSP Coordinator, if your institution is interested in acquiring an Ambassador frogmouth

Resources

Contributors and Citations

  • Baton Rouge Zoo
  • Woodland Park Zoo, Mark Myers, Tawny Frogmouth SSP Coordinator
  • Akron Zoo

Comments from the Rating System

  • Houston Zoo: Fascinating species, but the one I worked with seemed very nervous in front of guests.