SRI LANKA FROGMOUTH – AN UNUSUAL TOURIST ATTRACTION
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2000). Sri Lanka Frogmouth – An Unusual Tourist Attraction. Birders’ Corner. Island Newspaper. 04 October 2000.
The strange troll-like bird in the photograph is a Sri Lanka Frogmouth, a surprising tourist attraction albeit to a few thousand birdwatchers who visit Sri Lanka especially to see birds such as it. The Sri Lanka Frogmouth is high on the wish list of visiting birdwatchers as it is confined to Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats in India. In the Indian subcontinent, it represents the western-most range of Frogmouths, a family where the species are centered around Australia and adjoining islands. The birds get their name from the unusually wide beak that gives them a frog-like appearance. Despite their owl like appearance, Frogmouths are in a family of their own and are considered more closely related to Nightjars than Owls. The Sri Lanka Frogmouth is about the size of a Common Babbler (Demalitchcha in Sinhalese) which is a common garden bird.
The bird in the picture was photographed in Sinharaja by Brian and Clare Cox, two keen Britons who spent a two week birdwatching holiday in Sri Lanka earlier this year. Due to the nocturnal habits of Frogmouths, it is quite likely that more foreigners on birdwatching trips to the island have seen this bird than native Sri Lankans themselves. Even G. M. Henry, the doyen of Sri Lankan birdwatchers had only seen the bird twice when he wrote his magnus opus A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon. Writing about it he says “The only other occasion I have seen the species was at Labugama, when I was collecting insects at dusk along a jungle path strewn with great boulders; passing one of these, an arm’s length away, a small stone poised on its summit suddenly took wing and flew to another boulder about fifteen yards ahead – and proved to be a frogmouth”. Its cryptic camouflage is one reason why it escapes detection.
Although rarely seen, it is not as rare as had been previously supposed and has been heard in good primary and secondary forest all over the island up to the mid-elevations. So far little is yet known about its behavior in the wild. In fact, until March 1995 only two records were available of its nest, both by Major W.W.A. Phillips, one of the pioneers of Sri Lankan natural history. The nest is a simple pad of down on a bare branch, camouflaged with lichen and flakes of bark. The third and fourth nests of the Frogmouth were discovered in the 1990s by Deepal Warakagoda, a professional wildlife tour leader. Commenting on the photograph he believes it is a male, which is grayish brown in daylight, but which acquires a reddish tinge when photographed under flash or when viewed by torch light. The female is a much darker rufous. The pupil is black in color but the bird in the photograph suffers from ‘red-eye’, with the flash being reflected off its retina.
The conservation of Sri Lanka’s dwindling forests is important on an international scale for birds like the Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Furthermore, our wildlife are an increasingly valuable source of foreign eco-dollars.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
The author (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the lead author of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Sri Lanka and the forthcoming A Pocket Photographic Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. As a keen eco-traveler he has trekked around the world including to Everest Base Camp, the Peruvian Andes and rain forests in Borneo.