The “Dracula morph” of the famous morphing owl might represent the bird’s attempt to hide by resembling part of a tree. This is the strategy adopted by two other groups of birds, the New World potoos and the Old World frogmouths.
An alert reader, Geoff Beikoff, spotted and photographed two tawny frogmouths (Podargus strigoides) resting in a gray box eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus microcarpa) in North Queensland, Australia (click to enlarge). Are these cryptic or what?
Tawny frogmouths live in Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania. Their resemblance to owls is an evolutionary convergence, since they’re only distantly related. But, like owls, they’re nocturnal hunters (eating insects and small rodents) and sit immobile in trees during the day. According to Geoff, “They remain perfectly still and slit their eyes so that the eyes are not readily discernible.” (Note that the morphing owl also slits its eyes during the Dracula display.)
Here, courtesy of the London Zoo website, is a tawny frogmouth and her chick. You can see how the birds got their name:
Here’s a group of captive frogmouths awaiting repatriation to the wild:
Finally, just to show you another weird nocturnal and cryptic bird, here’s a common potoo (Nyctibius griseus) from South America:
Here’s my prediction as an evolutionary biologist who knows little about frogmouth biology: there exists—or did exist in the recent past—a diurnal, visually hunting predator that kills frogmouths.
h/t: Geoff Beikoff