Tawny Frogmouth: from rescue to release

On the morning of 28 October 2021, I was driving down our court when I noticed a small fluff-ball on the footpath below a neighbour’s large Eucalyptus nicholii nature strip tree.  I stopped to check it out and found a very young Tawny Frogmouth which I assumed had fallen out of a nest.  A parent bird was in the tree, on the lowest branch about 4m up, looking down and keeping watch as there was a Pied Currawong showing a lot of interest.

Tawny Frogmouth chick fallen from a nest
Parent keeping watch

I rang my wife Shirley who was quickly on the scene.  We decided that Shirley would ring the Wildlife Emergency Response to seek instructions on what to do while I kept guard.  Shirley was advised that we should make a nest in a container, make some drainage holes, nail the container in a tree, and place the chick in the new nest.  The advice was that hopefully the parent would watch us transfer the chick and attend the nest to look after it.  If this didn’t happen after a few hours, we were to ring them back.  

I made the nest according to instructions, using an ice-cream container and drilled the drainage holes.  I placed broken twigs in the bottom, with a layer of native grasses cut to length as an upper layer.  I can modestly say that it was a more comfortable nest than the parents would have made.  The height of the lowest branch on the E nicholii was far too high for me, so as advised, I fixed it to a lower tree branch in our front garden.  I picked up the chick and transported it to its new home.  Unfortunately during the whole process, the parent bird was very aware of the Pied Currawong and tried to see it off.  Because of this it may not have seen the relocation.

By this stage Shirley had decided that the chick needed a name, and it was named Thursday, because that was the day we found it.

Thursday in new nest

By mid-afternoon, after several checks, there was no sign of the parent bird, so Shirley rang the Wildlife Emergency Response again.  We were asked to email a photo of the chick so that they had a good idea of the age of the rescued bird.  We were then advised to place the chick in its nest in a dark place, and they would arrange for a Wildlife Rescue Service Volunteer (WRSV) to collect the bird.

The WRSV arrived late afternoon to take Thursday into care. She told us that Thursday looked healthy and was probably a female. She expected to release her near the rescue site, in about 2 months, and she would keep us informed.  We felt quite confident that Thursday was in good hands.

Over the next 2 months we received texts from the WRSV, with attached photos showing Thursday’s development.

8 November 2021: Thursday in centre
23 November 2021: Thursday at end right
8 December 2021: Thursday on right
24 December 2021: Thursday

Thursday with friends in the enclosure
Photos by the Wildlife Rescue Service Volunteer

During care the rescued Tawny Frogmouths lived in meshed enclosure, of sufficient size for the birds to take short flights.  The enclosure had many guests, a normal season being a temporary home to a total of about 20 rescued Tawny Frogmouth chicks. They were fed chicken hearts, meal worms and mice.  The enclosure had lighting to attract moths to supplement their diet and introduce them to becoming self sufficient.  

In early Jan we received a text from the WRSV advising that Thursday, with a friend, would be released as soon as the weather was suitable.  The release site was to be the treed corridor along the creek that runs between Waverley Road & Crosby Drive, Glen Waverley, about 200m from the rescue site.  At dusk, on 10 Jan 2022, Thursday and friend were released, both with full stomachs.  Thursday took off and quickly flew to some low vegetation about 30m distant.  The friend flew higher and perched on a horizontal branch about 4m above the ground, 15m distant.  We watched and waited for a while but the birds seemed settled for the night.  The WRSV assured us that they would be OK, and she would check on them the next day.  Sexing the birds is difficult, but because of the greyer plumage, the WRSV thought Thursday was probably female, and because the friend was browner, she thought it was probably male.

On our walk home, Shirley and I wondered if they would be OK and if we would ever see them again.  We decided that the friend deserved a name, so he was named Novak, as the bird’s release date was on the same day as Novak Djokovic’s release from detention.

Next morning at 8:30 we checked out the release site but at first could not find either bird.  After a closer look in the immediate area where Thursday was last seen, Thursday and Novak were there, back from the track, in classic stick posture, with eyes narrowed to slits, on a near vertical fallen branch only about 1m above the ground.  I had concerns about their safety as they were so close to the ground.  Checking HANZAB, one study reported that of roosting birds flushed, 50% were flushed from the ground, so perhaps there was no need for my concern.

Morning of 11 January 2022: Thursday rear, Novak front
Afternoon of 11 January 2022: Thursday rear, Novak front

On a return visit to the site mid-afternoon, I found both birds at the same roosting site, but Novak was much more animated than for the morning visit.

On a visit to the site on the morning of 12 Jan, neither bird could be found, but encouragingly there was no heap of feathers on the ground at the previous day’s roosting site.  Another visit on the same afternoon, and again no bird could be found.  Further visits on the morning and afternoon of 13 Jan also produced no sightings.  The corridor is a well timbered stretch with many suitable roosting sites, both at low level and higher level.  The WRSV advised that released birds are rarely seen at the release site, so no sightings could be a good sign.

I chose to believe that they are hunkered down somewhere in the corridor.  I was resigned to the fact that maybe I would never see either of the birds again, but just maybe one day, on a walk along the creek I will discover one or both Tawny Frogmouths.

Afternoon of 18 January 2022: A third juvenile Tawny Frogmouth 50m from the release site

But there is a sequel to this story.  Late afternoon on 18 Jan I spotted a juvenile Tawny Frogmouth only about 50m from the release site.  I was very excited with my find and hoped it was Thursday or Novak, so I took several photos to try and confirm which one it was.  The bird appeared to be smaller than either of the two, and on close examination of the photos, the tail was shorter and markings on the back, wings and tail didn’t agree with those of either Thursday or Novak.  I can only conclude that it was a third juvenile bird in this small patch of bush.  Of course, I will keep looking.

Bill Ramsay, Jan 2022
All photos by Bill Ramsay unless noted otherwise

3 thoughts on “Tawny Frogmouth: from rescue to release

  1. I enjoyed your heart warming story. Very well told and the accompanying photographs are excellent. Thank you

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