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

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 6

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