Coliidae – Mousebirds

Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Coliidae or mousebirds are a bird family in the order Coliiformes. They are the sister group to the clade Eucavitaves, which includes the cuckoo roller (Leptosomatiformes), trogons (Trogoniformes), Bucerotiformes, Coraciformes and Piciformes. This group is confined to sub-Saharan Africa, and is the only bird order confined entirely to that continent. They had a wider range in prehistoric times and apparently evolved in Europe.

They are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers. They are typically about 10cm in body length, with a long, thin tail a further 20cm to 24cm in length, and weigh 45g to 55g. They are arboreal and scurry through the leaves like rodents, in search of berries, fruit and buds. This habit, and their legs, gives rise to the group’s English name. They are acrobatic, and can feed upside down. All species have strong claws and reversible outer toes (pamprodactyl feet). They also have crests and stubby bills.

Mousebirds are gregarious, again reinforcing the analogy with mice, and are found in bands of about 20 in lightly wooded country. These birds build cup-shaped twig nests in trees, which are lined with grasses. Two to four eggs are typically laid, hatching to give altricial young which develop quickly and soon leave the nest and acquire flight.

There are generally recognized to be just six species in this family, which are:

Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus
White-headed Mousebird Colius leucocephalus
Red-backed Mousebird Colius castanotus
White-backed Mousebird Colius colius

Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus
Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus

Species Links
  • Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus

    Species Account
    The blue-naped mousebird (Urocolius macrourus), also formerly called the blue-naped coly (Colius macrourus) is found in the wild in the drier regions of East Africa and is also a common pet bird. It is one of the remaining six species of Mousebirds. The term “mousebird” comes from its ability to move along the ground in a way that resembles the scurrying of a mouse.
  • Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Lanius macrourus Linnaeus, 1766, Senegal. Closely related to U. indicus. Race syntactus often merged with nominate, as sometimes is laeneni. Seven subspecies currently recognized.
  • Red-backed Mousebird Colius castanotus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Red-backed Mousebird Colius castanotus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Colius castanotus J. P. Verreaux and J. B. É. Verreaux, 1855, probably Angola. Monotypic.
  • Red-backed Mousebird Colius castanotus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red-backed Mousebird Colius castanotus

    Species Account
    The red-backed mousebird (Colius castanotus) is a species of bird in the Coliidae family. It is found in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The name mousebird is based on bird's soft feathers with texture similar to a mouse's fur. The Red-backed mousebird got its name from the red or chestnut color patch on its back.
  • Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus

    Species Account
    The red-faced mousebird (Urocolius indicus) is a species of mousebird or coly. It is a common in southern Africa from Zaire, Zambia and Tanzania south to the Cape. Its habitat is savanna with thickets, fynbos scrub, other open woodland, gardens and orchards.
  • Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Colius indicus Latham, 1790, India; error = Gamtoos River, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.
  • Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus

    HBW Species Account
  • Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus

    Species Account
    The speckled mousebird (Colius striatus) is the largest species of mousebird, as well as one of the most common.
  • White-backed Mousebird Colius colius

    BirdLife Species Account
  • White-backed Mousebird Colius colius

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Loxia Colius Linnaeus, 1766, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Races intergrade, and are often merged. Two subspecies currently recognized
  • White-backed Mousebird Colius colius

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • White-backed Mousebird Colius colius

    Species Account
    The white-backed mousebird (Colius colius) is a large species of mousebird. It is distributed in western and central regions of southern Africa from Namibia and southern Botswana eastwards to Central Transvaal and the eastern Cape.
  • White-headed Mousebird Colius leucocephalus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • White-headed Mousebird Colius leucocephalus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Colius leucocephalus Reichenow, 1879, Kinakomba, Tana River, east Kenya. Races sometimes merged. Two subspecies currently recognized.
  • White-headed Mousebird Colius leucocephalus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • White-headed Mousebird Colius leucocephalus

    Species Account
    The white-headed mousebird (Colius leucocephalus) is a bird belonging to the mousebird family, Coliidae. It is found only in east Africa where it occurs in southern Somalia and parts of Kenya with its range just extending into southern Ethiopia and northern Tanzania. It inhabits arid bushland up to 1,400 metres above sea-level.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 6

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