by VIC JAKES

For many years a pair of tawny frogmouths (Podargus strigoides) has chosen one of the several massive mature eucalyptus trees on my property as their ideal site for that year’s nest. I say ‘ideal site’ but on many occasions, from a non-tawny frogmouth perspective, the chosen site has looked far from ideal. One particular year, the sensible decision was made to site the nest between three nearly vertical substantial offshoots of the main trunk of the tree, with the nest firmly wedged in a most secure position, but in other years nesting sites have appeared highly questionable.

Frogmouths usually lay up to three, but most often two, white, slightly glossy eggs. Unfortunately, the nests are invariably quite fragile and even a successful breeding season may see the growing chicks having just a bare branch on which to perch, their nest having totally disintegrated over time. 

Despite their shortcomings as nest builders, tawny frogmouths, which pair for life, are dedicated parents, with the male incubating by day and the female by night, during which time the male continues the nocturnal hunting regime, catching a wide variety of ground-dwelling creatures, mainly larger insects, but sometimes small mammals, frogs or reptiles. These are caught using the powerful beak, rather than its claws and feet, which are rather weak when compared to owls. The night-time hunt will see food being regularly brought back to the female to sustain her during her incubation duties, which will continue for around 30 nights. After hatching, the young frogmouths are by both parents for around 30 days before they are able to fly from the nest – or what remains of it.

I always keep an eye on the nest and daily routines of the parent birds once I have identified the exact location for that particular year, and never cease to be impressed by the stoic determination of the parent birds. A few years ago, after a night of unusually strong gusty squalls, I approached the known nest site in the eucalypt with eyes focussed upwards, looking along the horizontal branch to the fork where the nest should be. No parent bird, no twigs, no chicks. Nothing. It was then, as my eyes turned downwards, that I noticed, on the grass several metres away, what was clearly the remains of the nest. Then, to my delight, a small chick, still alive, a few metres further on. 

This chick was clearly far too young to be safe out of the nest and my thoughts turned to how best help it survive. As it happened there was a substantial round fence post near the shaded base of the eucalypt and I decided that, if I could secure the nest to the top of that, then place the chick inside, there was a reasonable chance the parents would resume their normal duties. Having done that, and about to retreat to a decent distance, I happened to notice a second chick on the ground in a different direction. This joined the first one in the nest.

In less than half an hour, I was delighted to see one of the parent birds fly to the relocated nest and, from then on, resume feeding and protecting the pair of chicks, which looked remarkably like the inspiration for Furbies. Then, after two weeks, my regular morning check revealed the post completely devoid of nest remains, chicks and parents. Why had everything disappeared? Had a fox or another predator managed to get to the nest or had the birds simply reached the stage where they could be safe, subject to continuing care from their parents, with a life away from the nest? I shall never know, but like to think the tale had a happy ending.