Tawny frogmouths are found throughout Australia, including cities and towns, and population numbers are healthy. We’re now in the breeding season – which runs from August to December – so you may have been lucky enough to see some pairs with chicks recently.
Here are eight fascinating things about tawny frogmouths that you might not know.
Tawny frogmouths are excellent parents. Both males and females share in building the nest and incubating the eggs, generally one to three. The eggs take 30 days to hatch, with the male incubating during the day and both sexes taking turns during the night.
Once hatched, both parents are very involved in feeding the fledglings. A young bird’s wings take about 25 to 35 days to develop enough strength for flight (a process known as “fledging”).
Tawny frogmouths pair for life. Breeding pairs spend a great deal of time roosting together and the male often gently strokes the female with his beak. Some researchers report seeing tawny frogmouths appear to “grieve” when their partner dies.
For example, renowned bird behaviour expert Gisela Kaplan tells of rearing a male tawny frogmouth on her property then releasing it to the wild. It found a female mate and raised nestlings. One day, the female was run over on the highway; Kaplan recognised its markings.
She found the male “whimpering” on a nearby post. Kaplan reportedly said: “It sounds like a baby crying. It affects you to listen to it.” According to Kaplan, the male stayed there for four days and nights, and did not eat or drink.
Although tawny frogmouths are often referred to as owls, they are not. But they do resemble owls with their large eyes, soft plumage and camouflage patterns, because both owls and frogmouths hunt at night. This phenomenon (where two species develop the same attributes, despite not being closely related) is called “convergent evolution”.
Unlike owls, tawny frogmouths do not have powerful feet and talons with which to capture prey. Instead, they prefer to catch prey with their beaks. Their soft, wide, forward-facing beaks are designed for catching insects. They will also feed on small birds, mammals and reptiles.
Tawny frogmouths are extremely well camouflaged and when staying statue-still on a tree branch they appear to be part of the tree itself. They often choose to perch near a broken tree branch and thrust their head at angle, further mimicking a tree branch.
Tawny frogmouths are quite vocal at night and have a range of calls from deep grunting to soft “wooing”. When threatened, they make a loud hissing sound. Their vocalisations have also variously been described as purring, screaming and crying.
In colder regions of Australia, tawny frogmouths are able to survive the winter months by going into torpor for a few hours. In this state, an animal slows its heart rate and metabolism and lowers its body temperature to conserve energy.
On very hot summer days tawny frogmouths will produce mucus in their mouths which cools the air they breathe in, thereby cooling their whole body.
It’s not that uncommon to see tawny frogmouths dead on the road; they often flit across the road chasing insects at night and can be hit by cars.
Tawny frogmouth populations are holding relatively steady, but there is a shortage of old trees for nesting. They especially like trees with old branches as they mimic old branches and stick out like sore thumbs on young branches.
When one NSW council chopped down a suburban tree that a tawny frogmouth pair had reportedly used for years as a nesting site, one of the birds was photographed sitting on a nearby woodchipper — a poignant image.
Tawny frogmouths are pretty slack when it comes to nest building. They simply dump twigs and leaves in a pile and that is it. Chicks and eggs have even fallen out of the nest when parents are swapping brooding duties.
Let’s look at the research.
The most reputable source for shark incident data in Australia is the Australian Shark Attack file, which is collated at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.
The map below, created by The Conversation using data from the Australian Shark Attack File, shows incidents between sharks and humans in Australia between 1997 and 2017.
You can use the filter buttons in the map to explore the data by year, season, the type of injury, the type of shark involved, the type of incident – or a combination of all the filters. Press the ‘show all’ button to reset the search.
The number of recorded encounters between sharks and humans in Australia increased modestly between 1997 and 2017, but the reason for this is unclear. Over those two decades, the Australian population increased by 33%, but that alone doesn’t explain the increase in recorded shark encounters.
Correcting for the growth in human population in Australia, the data show that between 1997 and 2017:
Encounters between humans and sharks are extremely variable over time, and difficult to predict. The increases in recorded incidents between 1997 and 2017 are relatively small, and may be explained by factors not related to shark populations – such as increases in the reporting of shark encounters, or increasing beach use.
White Sharks (formerly Great White Sharks) are recorded as being responsible for 28 of the 36 fatal shark encounters in Australian waters between 1997 and 2017, and are the primary target of shark mitigation strategies of the Western Australian, New South Wales and Queensland governments.
So, has there been an increase in the number of White Sharks in Australian waters?
Estimating population numbers in the marine environment is difficult, especially for long-lived migratory species like White Sharks.
However, there is no evidence that White Sharks numbers are on the rise, either in Western Australia or along the Eastern coast. Despite targeted conservation efforts, the available research show stable or slightly declining numbers in these populations.
There are two distinct populations of White Sharks off Australian coasts – one to the west, and another to the east of Bass Strait, which separates Tasmania from mainland Australia. The eastern population includes New Zealand White Sharks.
Recent work by the CSIRO through the National Environmental Science Program’s Marine Biodiversity Hub using innovative DNA analysis has provided us with the most detailed and reliable estimates of population size we have for this species.
The CSIRO study shows there has been a slight decline in adult White Shark populations since the year 2000.
Current adult abundance for the eastern Australasian population is estimated at 750, with an uncertainty range of 470 to 1,030. The southern-western adult population is roughly double the size, estimated at 1,460, with an uncertainty range of 760 to 2,250.
Including the available information about juvenile White Sharks, estimates of total size for the eastern population in 2017 was 5,460, with an uncertainty range of 2,909 to 12,802.
It’s difficult to detect population trends with White Sharks because of the length of time it takes juveniles to reach maturity – around 15 years. As protection of White Sharks began in the late 1990s, any changes in abundance would only be starting to appear in current populations.
The traditional way of measuring shark and fish populations is by examining catches in commercial fisheries over long time periods. By correcting for the level of fishing effort – which is done by looking at things like the number of nets, hooks and tows deployed by fishermen – scientists can assume that changes in the “catchability” of sharks is related to their abundance.
But due to the relative rarity of catches of White Sharks by fishing vessels, this approach is less reliable for this species than the more recent genetic studies conducted by the CSIRO and outlined above.
Western Australia has a detailed measure of White Shark numbers assessed by catch data. A report published by the Western Australian Department of Fisheries in 2016 attempted to model changes in the southern-western Australian White Shark population since the late 1930s. The authors outlined four different plausible scenarios, none of which suggested a continuous increase in the number of White Sharks.
In New South Wales, there has been a cluster of shark bites in recent years. Data from the NSW Shark Meshing (Bather Protection) Program, managed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, show a recent increase in White Sharks caught in nets placed near ocean beaches.
But when it comes to thinking about shark populations, we should not assume that these two facts are related. It’s important to remember that just because two things may correlate, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other.
These patterns could mean that the animals are coming closer to shore, rather than a population increase (or decrease).
A 2016 paper examined six global shark bite “hotspots” – the United States, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Reunion Island and the Bahamas – and concluded that when it comes to encounters between sharks and humans, there are a range of causes at play.
The authors also noted that shark encounters appear to happen in clusters. For example, 2009 saw a spike in shark encounters off the New South Wales coast. This coincided with an increase in beach attendance and beach rescues during what was an unusually warm summer for south-east Australia.
A 2011 paper highlighted the popularity of water sports as a factor contributing to increased human-shark encounters. More people are taking part in water sports, and improvements in wetsuit technology mean that people are in the water for longer throughout the year.
However, there is limited information on the number of people who use Australian beaches, so this explanation needs to be further studied.
It’s vital that any strategies put in place to reduce the number of unprovoked encounters between humans and sharks in Australian waters are carefully considered, and based on the best available research.
As I visited a wildlife park in New South Wales in 2011, the keeper at the daily “dingo talk” confidently told us that “pure dingoes don’t bark”. After five years studying dingoes’ vocal behaviours, I can tell you that this is a myth. Dingoes do bark!
While travelling around Australia to study dingoes, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with all sorts of people. One thing I realised is that the “dingoes don’t bark” belief is widespread – and it isn’t the only unproven dingo myth out there.
Lots of people in Australia take these three myths as hard facts:
“pure” dingoes don’t bark
“pure” dingoes are all ginger
dingoes are “just dogs”.
But none of these are actually true and here’s why.
Anyone who has been around dingoes for long enough will tell you that they do bark, but not like domestic dogs. Dingoes’ barks are generally harsher, and given in short bursts.
Domestic dogs will bark anytime, anywhere, for anything (often to their owners’ or neighbours’ chagrin). This is not the case with dingoes. They will generally bark only when alarmed – such as when researchers trap them to fit a radio tracking collar, or if you stumble across one in the bush.
Dingoes can also bark if they get very excited (about food, for example) but this is quite uncommon. The rarity of these events probably explains the prevalence of the “no barking” myth – wild dingo barking just doesn’t happen often enough for most people to witness it.
Another associated misconception is that captive dingoes will learn to bark from listening to domestic dogs. Although humans are very good at learning new sounds – indeed, that’s how we acquire our language – most other species (including canines) can make only a limited range of vocal sounds, and can’t learn new ones.
So the fact that captive dingoes bark actually confirms that they have barking abilities right from the start. It is, however, possible that by listening to nearby domestic dogs, captive dingoes learn to bark more often and in more situations than they otherwise might.
It is easy to see how this myth might harm efforts to protect dingoes. Imagine a well-meaning pastoralist shooting or baiting anything that barks, in the mistaken belief that it’s not a dingo.
The “typical” dingo that people picture in their minds – think Fraser Island – will be ginger (or tan) with white feet and a white-tipped tail. But dingoes, like people, come in a variety of shapes and colours.
There is also a lot of variation in the size and shape of white patches and these may even be absent altogether. It’s often thought that dingoes that lack ginger fur or white patches are dingo-dog hybrids, but this is not necessarily true.
Like the no-barking myth, misconceptions about coat colour can potentially harm dingo conservation. If we were to protect only ginger dingoes, we would unwittingly reduce the natural genetic variation of the population, making it more vulnerable to extinction.
This is perhaps the hardest belief to address, because it can vary depending on whether we look at their behaviours, ecology or origins. But this concept is arguably even more relevant to their conservation and management.
So is a dingo a dog? Although dogs’ evolutionary origins are still unclear, we know that dingoes are descendants of animals domesticated long ago somewhere in Asia and then brought to Australia. Dingoes are thus an ancient dog breed and so, yes, dingoes are dogs.
However, we also know that dingoes arrived in mainland Australia roughly 5,000 years ago and have since been isolated from all other canines right up until European settlement. Some experts argue that this makes them distinct enough to warrant protection from hybridisation with domestic dogs.
As dingo researcher Ben Allen puts it, “pure ones need to be distinguished from hybrid ones somehow, and it is the pure ones that have conservation value as a species”.
But as fellow dingo expert Guy Ballard points out, dingoes are undeniably a type of dog, so arguably all that really matters is that their function as top predators in the ecosystem is preserved.
But there’s a catch (as Ballard has acknowledged): we do not know whether dingoes, feral dogs and hybrids behave similarly – or in other words, whether all three can perform the same ecological role.
We do know that India’s free-ranging dogs behave very differently from Australian dingoes: they are inefficient predators, do not form packs and do not breed cooperatively. This suggests that, in terms of their behaviours, dingoes may be very different from other types of dogs after all.
Until we know more, the best approach to safeguarding dingoes and their role in the ecosystems might be to view and treat them as completely separate and distinct from other free-ranging dogs in Australia.
Far from being “just dogs”, dingoes really are unique dogs.
The link below is to an article that looks at some facts about moths.
The link below is to an article about Rhinos. Have a read.
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