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Master of Disguise

It’s a branch…it’s an owl…no, it’s a tawny frogmouth!

The ABQ BioPark has two tawny frogmouths at Koala Creek. This bird is one of the best examples of cryptic plumage and mimicry in Australia, and is known as one of the country’s most effective forms of pest control. They love to feast on household and garden nuisances such as spiders, worms, slugs, beetles, wasp, and small mammals such as mice and reptiles. Their excellent precision using their beaks helps them grab prey.

Turns out these big-headed stocky birds have a few tricks up their feathers:

They look like owls (but they’re not)

Tawny frogmouths are often confused with owls because of similar mottled patterns, wide eyes and feet, but are actually more closely related to the nightjars (birds characterized by long wings, short legs and very short bills). While owls have large curved talons and strong legs, tawny frogmouths have weak feet lacking talons. Tawny frogmouths also have eyes on the side of their face—an owl’s eyes face forward.

They look like trees (but they’re not)

Their silvery-grey plumage is patterned with white, black, and brown streaks and mark with spots or smears of color. This allows the tawny frogmouth to freeze into the form of a broken tree branch and become practically invisible in broad daylight. Often a pair will sit together, pointing their heads upward—they will only break cover if approached closely to take flight or warn off predators.

Come see if you can spot these masters of disguise in Koala Creek!

Photo: garycycles8 on Flickr.