Owls With Big Mouths: Explained In Detail

Owls With Big Mouths

Wide-eyed, round-faced, and chubby-bodied, owls are one of the most interesting creatures to look at and study and are a constant feature in many of our myths and folktales. 

Wise-looking and mysterious, these primarily nocturnal birds swoop through the night sky in search of their prey which they then kill and consume with brutal force. 

One of the most effective raptor birds, they are equipped with a number of physical capabilities that enable them to be as vicious to their prey as they are. 

From sharp talons that can squeeze the life out of their prey to ridged wings that enable silent flying to binaural hearing to locate their prey through sound waves alone, the incredible feats owls are capable of are endless.

Of the many things that make them so terrifying to their prey, their mouthparts are pretty low on the list when talking about hunting adaptations. 

Mostly, the prey is captured and weakened using the talons, after which the mouth comes into action. 

Recently, pictures of a very wide and large-mouthed bird were circulating around the bird-loving community, baffling members and laymen alike with the size of their mouths.

While a lot of owls are large, wide, and circular, their beaks are a more slender feature, and so questions arose about this species of owl. 

So today we are going to look at how owls use their mouths for various reasons, and who that wide-mouthed smile belongs to!

Are There Owls With Big Mouths/Beaks?

No, there are not! Owls use mainly their sharp talons for catching prey and thus do not need large mouths to hunt. 

They have extremely strong and sturdy legs that end in a clawed sharp foot that has the power to simply swoop down and capture the creatures they see from a mile away.

Their toes also possess a unique flexible joint that gives them increased flexibility when hunting. 

Moreover, owls have narrow, slender beaks that face downwards like a hook to tear apart larger prey. 

This downwards-facing beak also makes sure that there are no interruptions in their direct field of vision. It also ensures minimal blockage of sound waves reaching the owls’ ears so that they can locate prey much more easily.

Who Is The Bird With The Big Mouth? Similarities And Differences

The owl-looking culprit in the pictures is probably a Tawny Frogmouth, a species of frogmouth native to Tasmania and the Australian mainland. 

This is not the first time it has been mistaken for an owl as its big wide stocky stance, its similar camouflage coloring, and nocturnal habits are pretty misleading. 

Both birds have a lot of similarities, which explains the constant comparison and misidentification. 

They both have similarly mottled feathers, with white splotches appearing on the brown and tan feathers coupled with dark blotches appearing on the lighter ones. 

They also have eerily similar eyes, that are both wide and round, and yellow in color. They both have anisodactyl feet, which is a common arrangement in birds where they have three toes pointing forward and one toe pointing to the back and is helping for perching, grabbing, and clinging.

But they also have key differences that may not be as apparent but are still essential during identification. 

The main difference is our topic of the question here: their beaks. They have big, wide, forward-facing beaks that open wide to capture insects, while owls have more slender beaks that curve downwards into a hook. 

They also use their beak primarily for hunting animals and thus have weak feet and talons when compared to the strength and stealth of owls’ feet.

What Bird Family Does Tawny Frogmouths Belong To?

Though their resemblance to owls is pretty uncanny, they are not a bird of prey. 

Tawny Frogmouths belong to the Frogmouth family, a group of nocturnal birds that are more connected to nightjars and hummingbirds than eagles and owls. 

Their unique name comes from the wide and flattened bill and their frog-like gape, which they use for capturing insects. They are mainly distributed in the Indomalayan and Australasian realms.

What Do Tawny Frogmouth’s Babies And Juveniles Look Like?

Tawny frogmouths’ babies have a much more fluffy appearance as compared to their parents’ haggard and scruffed-up look. 

Similarly colored with varying shades of silver, gray, white, and the occasional dark splotch. 

They weigh approximately 0.6 ounces at hatching and spend about 27 to 32 days in the nest under the continuous care of their parents before they leave the nest to try their first flight.

Fledglings have wild streaks of dark brown interspersed throughout their back, running from the end of their neck to the tail region.

Juveniles also sport a similarly adorable look, with the fluffy white, gray, and silver down staying for another few months. 

This down keeps the bird warm and toasty and protects it from the elements of weather.

While the adults sport varying shades of gray, silver, reddish-brown hues, and variable white barring, the juveniles have similar coloration but at a less contrasting level. 

The juveniles keep up this fluffy adorable appearance for just under 12 months, after which they get the more contrasted, less fluffy appearance of the adults.


So yes, the bird you see opening its trap nice and wide to you is not, in fact, an owl, but a very similar-looking nocturnal buddy from an entirely different family of birds, Tawny Frogmouths. 

I hope you had a fun time exploring the world of these night-dwelling twins, and more importantly, that you learned something new about them!

Thank you for reading!

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