Oscar is the most unusual looking bird I’ve ever seen. When we first saw Oscar, I thought he was a piece of driftwood, Ken thought it was a joke by the presenter. Oscar is a Tawny Frogmouth, member of the nightjar family, indigenous to Tasmania. We met him at the Unzoo in Taranna, Tasmania.
During the day these birds sit perfectly still on tree branches, their grey mottled feathers blending in with the tree bark. Thier beaks are nearly indistinguishable from their fluffy head feathers and they can point them upwards to blend in even more. They wait patiently for nighttime and the hunt. If it’s cold, they conserve energy by dropping their core temperature to as low as 20C. At dusk, they awaken to hunt for small rodents and moths. They rely on their keen eyes, eyes so sensitive to the light that they are equipped with eyebrows called moon visors – to shield them from moonlight. They catch their prey with their beaks, not their claws like owls do. Oscar was rescued after he was hit by a car, chasing moths.
The Unzoo is a private conservation centre that focuses primarily on education and saving Tasmanian Devils from extinction. The devils have been put on the Endangered Species list because of the deadly Devil Facial Tumor Disease, the only known communicable form of cancer. 90% of mainland devils have died from the disease. On the Tasman peninsula, devils are disease-free and the ones at the Unzoo may end up saving the breed from total extinction.
Devils are about the size of a skunk but with a large head and a powerful jaw. They are marsupials carrying up to four babies in an upside down pouch on their bellies.
They live solitary lives except when breeding and feeding. Devils eat carrion. When a devil finds a kill, it lets out a squeal that attracts other devils. Their feeding frenzy is much like hyenas’, crushing and eating everything with their strong jaws: flesh, bones and fur. Sometimes in their rush to get their share they bite each other. That’s how the deadly Facial Tumor Disease is passed on.