Wild Thing

I wasn’t sure if it was the sudden rush of air on my face, or the gentle pressure on my chest that first alerted me to another presence in the room. I froze, wondering if an intruder had broken in and I was about to end up in one of those Netflix specials about unsolved crimes, with the whole world gorging on the horrific details of my violent demise. Then a more likely explanation halted my tachycardia. I opened my eyes. Two intense fiery orbs stared into mine. “Finally,” they seemed to accuse, “I’m starving!” 

Many years earlier, my toddlers had unique ways of waking me. My eldest would gently stroke my cheek. The middle child would fiddle with my earlobes, and the youngest would play with my hair braid. In some ways, caring for a nocturnal chick was a similar experience to nurturing a human baby. There is utter joy in watching their development, anxiety about their safety, killer sleep deprivation, endless poop to clean up, and unconditional love and affection. I never fed my children mice, spiders and insects though. Well, apart from the year of the great flour-weevil infestation, when my baked goods had added crunch.

For around two months, I had the extraordinary privilege of co-parenting a tawny frogmouth chick.

Much smaller and weaker than her two older siblings, she was found shivering and close to death on the ground after fledging far too early during several weeks of unseasonably stormy weather and heavy rain.

I learned many things during my time caring for this fluffball. She also made me laugh on a daily basis.

These birds are often known for their disapproving fierce stare, but I found her to be the most gentle and affectionate creature I’ve cared for.

When Tawny returned to the wild permanently, I was left with mixed feelings. I feared she’d become roadkill like so many of her kind that are drawn to flying insects in headlight beams, or that she’d end up as dinner for a marauding neighbourhood cat. Loving a wild creature means allowing them freedom though, just as we give our human loved ones the freedom to leave if they desire. They may no longer be with us, but the special memories of time spent together remain.

Eventually, I’ll share more details of our time together, but for now I’ll conclude by saying I benefitted just as much from the relationship as she did, if not more. In the words of songwriter, Chip Taylor:

“Wild thing…you make my heart sing.”

46 thoughts on “Wild Thing

    • You are too kind, dear Susan. Thank you very much. At the time, my eldest son was moving interstate and having the tawny frogmouth chick to care for helped me not be as anxious about him leaving. I was simply too sleep deprived and busy caring for that little fluffball to worry as much as usual. Despite the weariness, those 2 months were a highlight of my life. Such a special treat. Best wishes. 🙂

  1. Fabulous, just totally fabulous.

    How do these birds survive at all in the suburbs, when it seems like every morning there is a dead one on the road? Any night-time walk around here usually features a glimpse of a silhouetted frogmouth on powerline or fence – these things are such a feature of night in the suburbs of south-east Queensland. My small dog is terrified of them after encountering one on the clothesline staring at her, and she was even mysteriously swooped by one in the park one night. Such cool birds.

    How good is it be able to help out these special creatures? Great job, Jane – you are indeed the Frogmouth Whisperer!

    • Thank you for those encouraging words, Rob. I’d planned to write so much more, but the old brain is quite foggy these days. Never did I expect to have the privilege of caring for such a unique bird. Like you, I wonder how so many survive in my area with all the cars, predators and poisons. For several weeks after Tawny flew away for the last time, I dreaded finding a pile of her feathers in my yard or seeing her squashed on the road. I learned so much about frogmouths by having to care for her and by reading Gisela Kaplan’s excellent book, “Tawny Frogmouth.” It’s an amazing resource.

      I can understand why your little dog would be terrified of them. Hopefully, she’s not on the receiving end of their defensive faecal spray one day! The frogmouths in my yard sometimes squirt our neighbour’s cats and the smell is incredible! Another technique that has helped them flourish in our suburbs, I guess. Gotta love them! Thanks again for your enthusiasm and support, Rob. All the best. 🙂

    • Thanks very much for your kind support, Marina. It was such a fantastic experience and it was a pleasure to share my joy with others. With so much stressful news about at the moment, I hoped it might give my blogging friends a smile and also let them know I’m still alive! I’ve been terribly slack with blogging. All the best. 🙂

      • Dear Jane,
        Thank you for your time and comment. And yes, thank you for sharing and providing some smiling time. It is absolutely terrible times on this side of the globe, so any tale and picture of nature and its nicer inhabitants are most welcome.
        Slack is o.k. Sign of life is super!
        Thank you again and all the best 🙂

        • Thanks, Marina. Let’s hope there is an end to the horrors and some sort of relief comes soon for those suffering. I don’t know how they can bear so much trauma! xo

    • Thank you very much, MaryLou. I still can’t quite believe I had the opportunity to care for a species which I have long adored Occasionally, I find a tiny feather in the house which reminds me that it did indeed happen. All the best. 🙂

  2. Jane, you write of the privilege in caring for such a wonderful being, but as a reader of your lyrical words, I feel privileged to read them. If days appear where the fog lifts to draw your words to a page once again, I look forward to learning more of your journey with Tawny. Truly enchanting.

    • Thank you so much, Caro. Your comment made me feel a little teary. I do hope I can recover more of my mental energy and writing ability so I can share the many observations from my time with her. Some of her antics were hilarious! Bulk buying live wood cockroaches and crickets in lots of 500 made life interesting as well. Trying to sleep with hundreds of escapee crickets chirping in the house added to the sleep deprivation. Accidentally dropping a container of wood cockroaches was also fun. I’m still finding some live ones in very odd places. One crawled out of my handbag in a shopping centre! I hope no-one saw. Haha. Family opening my freezer had to get used to seeing bags of frozen mice as well. Thanks again for your kind words. All the best. 🙂

    • I’m so pleased to read that, Anna! 😀 I’ve always adored these quirky birds and having the chance to actually care for a chick was amazing. I can still remember the feel of her soft feathers and the affectionate snuggling. I actually still miss her but am delighted that she was able to transition back into the wild and one day potentially have her own offspring. I’ve kept some of her baby feathers in the same way I kept some of my children’s baby hair. 🙂

  3. Good for you, Jane. I was very fortunate to raise a fledgling raven, while I was in veterinary practice in northern Wisconsin, until he was able to fly off on his own. We called him Edgar, and what a wonderful experience, as you well know.

    • Thanks, Gary! Ravens are such intelligent birds aren’t they? How wonderful that you were able to raise Edgar. I wonder if he was named after Edgar Allen Poe who wrote the poem, “The Raven”? I have Australian Ravens that regularly nest in my yard. The male has a deformed foot and I call him Knobby. He still does extremely well though. When walking he balances himself by sticking his tail upwards like a wren. He chooses branches to rest on that are supportive of his impaired leg. Knobby and his lady friend are very affectionate towards each other. Their chicks are raised in big messy nest at the top of a gum tree and they are very noisy and demanding. I’m pretty sure I’m not very popular with my neighbours due to my block being full of trees that attract so many noisy birds (and possums)! Haha. We’ve had a phenomenal amount of rain here (over 880 mm in one month and it’s raining heavily again now) so that has helped my block become even wilder in appearance. I think I’m turning into one of those recluses the local kids make up Halloween stories about! At least the wildlife appreciates my crazy overgrown block. You must have a lot of interesting veterinary memories. I planned to be a Vet also but my life changed direction. I have marvelous memories though of helping to birth stuck lambs and goat kids on farms where I lived, and my children had turkeys, ducks, chickens, a turtle, guinea pigs, dogs, insects, spiders, lizards and injured wild creatures to care for. Our house was a bit like a Dr Doolittle residence at times! Critters do a lot to lift the spirits in dark times. Best wishes. 🙂

      • You hit the nail on the head with your name guess. After he was able to fly up into the trees, I would give him a few minutes and then call him in a falsetto “EEEEEDD-gar!) and he would come back at least in the evening, for about six weeks. then one day he decided not to come to the call, though I still saw him hanging around for a few more weeks before he left to embrace a larger territory. He did indeed lift our spirits on many an occasion. I also had occasion to treat quite a few injured critters, too; here’s one of my most memorable: https://krikitarts.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/the-eyes-have-it/

        • I just checked your blog post. How wonderful to have treated a snowy owl! What beautiful creatures and yes, how amazing are their eyes! What a great picture of you both. It must have been so rewarding to be able to treat a magnificent creature like that and see it fly off into the wild. Such special memories you must have. Thanks for sharing your stories. 🙂

    • Thanks, Tom. It’s lovely to hear from you. I was delighted to see Tawny grow up to be so healthy and strong after finding her in such a poor state. The rest of the frogmouth family would regularly roost in multiple spots in my yard and so I was able to compare the progress of the more developed siblings with her. During the first month, the parents really struggled to feed the 2 older siblings during weeks of very bad weather and they looked in poor condition. Meanwhile, the Tawny I cared for thrived on the bountiful supply of live insects and frozen mice which I ordered from a live food company or found myself. During the second month, she spent good weather days outside on tree limbs, either on her own, or near her family, who readily accepted her presence. In fact, one of the siblings would sometimes fly to sit next to her. Hence, why I decribed myself as “co-parenting” her. I kept supplementary feeding her through this second month while she was learning to hunt for herself in my yard. Eventually, her wild instincts and the presence of her siblings, drew her back to the wild permanently. From what I’ve read, some chicks reared exclusively by humans and without other frogmouth chicks can’t be easily returned to the wild, however, in her case, she still had the presence of her Tawny frogmouth family visiting my yard regularly to help her know she was still a frogmouth. In the final week before she flew away permanently at sunset, she was particularly affectionate towards me but also restless. I had a feeling she was getting ready to leave for good. I knew it was unlikely she would remain in my neighbourhood as usually young Tawnies have to leave to find their own territory. Some weeks later though, I was outside in my garden at dusk, when a Tawny flew down to a low branch right near my head and stared at me. It was getting dark so I can’t be certain, but I am fairly sure it was her. Another tawny flew to a branch nearby and I think it was the male sibling (the one that would regularly fly to sit near to her in that second month.) When she finally left she was capable of catching insects in flight, on tree trunks and on the ground so I was confident her food needs would be met. My biggest concerns were cars and cats. I hope she will do ok. I remind myself that if I hadn’t found her, she would have suffered and died that day. In previous years, the parents have successfully reared all their chicks without problem but we had weeks of night storms and heavy rain this time which made life very difficult for them. Hopefully, I will be able to share more pictures and anecdotes from those busy 2 months caring for her and training her to catch food for herself. It will be interesting to see if she does return at all during breeding season this year. Frogmouths are monogamous and territorial though, so unless her parents die or move away, it is unlikely I will see her back here. That’s quite a longwinded way of answering your question, Tom! Haha. My blog post was very short due to chronic brain fog, and I was planning to write about the complexity a little later as it was quite a unique situation. I do hope you and your loved ones are well there, Tom. Best wishes. 🙂

      • Thank you for this comprehensive reply. Your brain fog must have cleared a bit. 🙂

        It is a very interesting story. Perhaps all things considered, it will be better if you do not see her again as that might show that she has really returned to a natural life, I look forward to further instalments of your life with her if you can manage them.

        Look after yourself carefully too. 🙂

      • Dear Jane,

        This is such a beautiful story and I loved the details you gave to Tom about how you reintroduced her to the wild. I had been wondering a lot about how you managed that. Write when you can my friend. We are all here to read your wonderful stories about the wild when you are able to put them into print. ❤

        Sending love and healing thoughts from 'Bama,

        • It’s wonderful to hear from you again, Lynda, and I’m so pleased you enjoyed my encounter with the Tawny Frogmouth. She actually did return and “say hello” to me a few months ago, but didn’t want any food. I have seen a couple of them hit by cars in my neighborhood, so I was wondering if she’d survived. Breeding season has just started here and I’m waiting to see if any nest in my yard again. I must admit, every time I tried to write a follow up blog post about her, I felt too sad because I missed her. I am surprised at how much the special encounter impacted me. I think I may just need to write about some old walks I’ve done and recount my experience with her further down the track. Thank you for your kind support and encouragement of my blog, Lynda. I hope all is well with you and your loved ones there. It seems this Pandemic is not going away any time soon. I especially feel for the vulnerable and the overworked health care workers. Love to you too. All my best. x

    • Thanks very much, Ashley. I can imagine how much pleasure you would have gained from being a carer of such a fascinating and intelligent species. It was truly a privilege to have this unique experience. I’ve just written a long reply to Tom (Tootlepedal) just before your comment and if you read it you will get an extra understanding of the “co-parenting” arrangement. In the second month she was able to spend time on her own or near her frogmouth family who were still regularly visiting my yard and roosting during the days in a variety of trees. They accepted her presence and would communicate with her. She was also able to get protection from predators by being near her parents who would defend their fledglings if harassed. The parents also accepted my presence. I continued to supplementary feed her though while she was learning to hunt her own food. Fortunately, I had hundreds of big fat cicada nymphs emerge from the ground most nights to break out of their casings. While they were soft and vulnerable, they were delicious pickings for Tawny. She also ate the giant huntsman spiders that were lying in wait for the cicadas! I have pictures to share eventually. A lot of sleep deprivation for me, but also lots of excitment during these night escapades. Haha. Thanks again for your support, Ashley. All the best. 🙂

    • Hi Steve. I always enjoy hearing from you. I hope you and Eve are well. I wondered if anyone would comment on my hair as the first time I saw those pictures of myself with her on my shoulder, I noticed immediately how similar the shades of my hair were to her feathers. These days I have plenty of silver mixed with my natural brown! Haha. I noticed that she much preferred me to have my hair down rather than tied back. She also seemed to prefer me wearing my light pink tishirt that has some dark loopy cursive writing on the chest area – I assume because it made me look more like another frogmouth. I only wear eye make-up on rare occasions and she would be very suspicious of me when I returned home wearing it so I’d need to wash it off immediately. She did not like me wearing a black dress at all and I wondered if that was because it is the colour of large birds that tend to harass chicks – ravens, currawongs and magpies It was fascinating to notice all these likes and dislikes.
      Yes, frogmouths look a lot like owls and are often mistaken for them. One of the biggest differences is their feet. Luckily for me they have small weak legs and feet while owls have strong talons. I would have had to be much more careful carrying her on my arm or shoulder if she was an owl. Another difference is their wide bill which actually makes up most of their skull. When they open their bill wide, it looks like they are all mouth. Quite amusing really. Owls have narrower, sharper beaks, more suited to tearing up prey. Tawnies tend to crush prey in the bills and whack it against limbs or swallow it whole. Their eyes are also positioned more on the side of their heads rather than completely front-facing like owls. I found her to have a very gentle temperament. I feel so fortunate to have been able to care for such a unique creature. Thanks for reading and commenting, Steve. I always appreciate hearing from you. Best wishes. 🙂

      • Eve and I are generally okay; thanks for asking. We’ve been going out in nature, especially in search of the spring wildflowers that have been weeks late in arriving this year and are only now finally putting in an appearance.

        If the tawny frogmouth were an owl, and if you were an elderly male, then we could conjure up Edward Lear’s limerick:

        There was an Old Man with a beard,
        Who said, “It is just as I feared! —
        Two Owls and a Hen,
        Four Larks and a Wren,
        Have all built their nests in my beard.”

        • With the springflowers being so late it sounds like your weather has been unusual too, but perhaps in the opposite way to ours. I follow a family on Youtube who are trying to live offgrid in Texas and they were in dire straits this year from lack of rainwater until recently. Here we had over 880mm in one month and then we had another 100mm on Sunday/Monday. There was/is record breaking flooding in SE Queensland and in the Nothern Rivers region of New South Wales and it seems there may be more storms/heavy rain for several months to come.
          Thanks for reminding me of the Edward Lear limerick, Steve. That one always amused me. I can tell you that my hair already provides brief homes for critters. 😀 My garden is so overgrown and covered in spiderwebs, that I usually come back inside from my yard with tiny spiders and bugs in my hair as well as a dusting of cobwebs and leaves. It greatly amuses my family. I usually have to check my hair carefully before going to the shops! I’m probably turning a little wild myself… 🙂

  4. YOU made my heart sing… how utterly adorable and thrilling! Lucky you to have such an experience. Thank you ever so much for sharing and for starting my day off on such a happy note!

    • Aww…thank you, Gunta! You are very kind. I’m so pleased my experience helped you start your day on a happy note. I knew you’d understand what an amazing experience it was for me. I can truly say that caring for her was a highlight of my life. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced such utter joy. As you say, it was thrilling! She was so sweet, affectionate and funny. I still find myself amazed that it actually happened. I know I only spent 2 months with her, but I still miss her. That’s probably why it’s taken me a while to share the news – I feel mixed emotions. I told myself not to become attached to a wild creature as she would have to leave eventually, but of course, I couldn’t help myself. Haha. Anyway, I’m glad my experience gave you a smile. Thank you! 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Helen. I was such a special experience that I’ll remember always. I’m so pleased you were also able to care for one of these beautiful creatures too. They are such characters and very affectionate. Best wishes. 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Neil. You are too kind. I haven’t been writing much these days. I think my brain has gone into partial hibernation! Hope you are well. Best wishes. 🙂

  5. Did you get my first reply? I am having a heck of a time getting anything I write to others on WordPress to go through. Please let me know, and thanks!

    • Yes, I did get your first reply. Lynda. Thank you! I am receiving thousands of spam messages a day in my WordPress folder. It seemed to ramp up about 2 years ago. I used to check my spam folder in case legitimate comments ended up there, but it’s beyond me now with over 1000 spam a day. I think I currently have over 10 000 spam messages in the box. It is likely I have missed many real comments that have been mixed up with spam over the past year or so. I’m glad your comment made it into the correct folder!

      • Thanks, Jane. I tried to post my comment and I got a message that I had to sign in, I signed in, and then could not tell if the comment had gone through or not. I can see it now of course. 😉 I”ve had a problem for some time with my web browser and permissions for my blog. There seems to be new updates at least once per week, and I understand why, as there are so many evil hackers out there. But, it sure does make it hard to keep my settings straight! I have once again freed my blog to go to all WordPress sites, including my own, with out being dropped from my accepted places to visit… or some such falderal. Sigh. We’ll see how long this lasts. I hope for a few more browser updates at any rate. I can now post replies, see my reader, and the bell for notifications again. 😀

        • I am a technophobe and barely understand what’s going on with updates or permissions. I wouldn’t even know if other people can easily access my blog or if I am missing out on anything. I have enough trouble using my phone apps! Haha. Just as I seem to get a handle on my current version of Windows on my computer they come out with a new one. I get quite frustrated with the built-in redundancy of tech products so that people have to buy new versions. Seems such a waste of resources to have to replace phones and computers regularly. I do hope all goes well with your current settings and it’s less of a headache. I rarely get online these days. My mind seems to be benefitting from the break. I do miss the interactions with blogging friends though. All the best. 😀

          • ” I get quite frustrated with the built-in redundancy of tech products so that people have to buy new versions.”

            AGREE!!! Phones, pfffffft! Who needs a mini computer to drag around with you all day when all you want to do is send and receive calls? I would still be using my little “brick” (dumb) phone if it hadn’t died. They still make brick phones, but they cost almost as much as a smart phone and there is less support if you do. Windows? Don’t get me started! I held onto my Win7 until Win10 and only changed because Microsoft refused to support Win7, which meant that other important software tech were forced to stop supporting it too.

            OK, placing my hand over my mouth and stepping down off of my soapbox now. 😛

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