• Malcolm Fisher

The Tawny Twitch

The Northern Beaches is blessed to have an incredible diversity of wildlife and wild places. In this column we’re going to feature some of the fascinating species that call this hood home and explore a few other environmental themes as well.

To kick off, let’s start with a creature that’s very close to this publication’s heart. It loves the night-life, is big headed, pretty mouthy and is a master of disguise. In fact, this curious looking bird is so reminiscent of ourselves that we named an entire magazine after it! Now some people think that the Tawny Frogmouth is an owl but it is much more closely related to another nocturnal bird called a Nightjar. And we’ve been known to have a few of those ourselves at the Steyne.

Tawny Frogmouths attempt to hide in full sight by emulating broken looking tree branches and keeping as still as statues, by ruffling up their scruffy mottled brown and silvery grey plumage and by closing their yellow eyes, and pointing their craggy heads upwards, they make a pretty good job of it too. If you’re lucky enough to spot them roosting in the day time, you’ll see they normally hang around in pairs as they are fiercely monogamous (which may explain why they are not called the Warney Frogmouth).

When you think of birdsong you normally imagine tuneful tweets, chirps and twitters. Not with the Frogmouth. One of their calls sounds like the reversing alarm of a semi-trailer, another is a chilling high-volume scream. They have also been known to cry mournfully if their life partner dies.

One of their huge benefits to humans is the fact that Tawnies control what some may regard as pest species. They’ll clean up your yard of things like scorpions, spiders, slugs, snails and mice all for free. The only thing they might ask in return is for you not to use pesticides or poison baits which ultimately end up in the food chain and can cause them great harm. Please don’t cut down the (mainly Eucalypt) trees they roost in either. Actually, while we’re at it, they would also ask you to keep your cat in at night. It’s been calculated that every domestic cat kills around 75 native animals annually and Tawny Frogmouths make fairly easy prey. They do, however, have a special protective weapon up their feathery sleeve (and please don’t copy this at home or along the Corso). They ward off predators by spraying them with a particularly smelly variety of faeces.

Thanks for looking out for the Tawnies. See you next month for another nature fix.