The mousebirds are a unique group of African birds confined to sub-Saharan Africa. They belong to the order Coliiformes, which is divided into two genera of the family Coliidae.
There are six species in total. Taxonomically, they’re most closely related to cockatoos and parrots. Interestingly, they are the only bird order which is endemic to Africa.
Mousebirds are named after their hair-like feathers, which are similar to a mouse’s, and because they move through vegetation like mice.
They have a distinctive shape with chunky bodies, sharp crests, and long tails. They average approximately 3.9 in (10 cm) in length, excluding the tail. With their tails, they measure up to 15 in (38 cm).
Regarding diet, mousebirds feed on fruits, seeds, nectar, leaves, and other plant materials.
Mousebirds make cup-shaped nests out of plant and animal materials. They lay between one and seven eggs in each clutch. Mousebirds stay warm and save energy at night by roosting communally.
In the following article, we describe the six different types of mousebirds.
1. Genus Colius
1.1 Red-backed Mousebird (Colius castanotus)
The Red-backed Mousebird has brownish-grey upper parts, with its name-sake reddish back, a brown crest, pale eyes, a black face with whitish feather tips, grey cheeks, a bicolored bill, and buffy underparts.
They grow to a size of 11.8 to 15 in (30 to 38 cm) and weigh 1.4 to 2.9 oz (39 to 82 g).
Their typical call is a rough-sounding chee.
They are found in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they inhabit woodlands, savannahs, forest edges, agricultural areas, and thorny scrublands.
This species has a stable population, but its range is relatively small. They are, however, still considered a species of minor concern.
1.2 Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus)
The Speckled Mousebird shows an extensive range of geographic variation in plumage. They typically have brown upper parts, light buffy-brown underparts, blackish faces, greyish-brown crests, and dark or pale eyes.
This species weighs 1.3 to 2.8 oz (36 to 80 g). They reach a length of between 11.8 and 14.2 in (30 and 36 cm).
They are widespread in southern, eastern, central, and western Africa. In terms of habitat, they live in thickets, savannahs, grasslands, yards, orchards, open woodlands, and forest edges.
They typically produce a harsh chee call, amongst other notes.
The Speckled Mousebird has a wide distribution range and increasing population size, making it a species of the least concern.
1.3 White-backed Mousebird (Colius colius)
The White-backed Mousebird has grey upper parts, a white back, a grey crest and chest, a dark face mask, a silvery bill with a black tip, a dark tail, a buffy belly, reddish legs, and a dark eye.
In terms of size, they grow from 11.4 to 12.6 in (29 to 32 cm) in length and weigh 1.1 to 2.1 oz (31 to 59 g).
This mousebird species lives in farmlands, coastal shrublands, fynbos, and other semi-desert habitats. Their distribution covers South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.
Their most frequently heard call is a cheee-wee-wee-wiit call.
The White-backed Mousebird population is doing well and increasing in size. They are listed as a species of low conservation concern.
1.4 White-headed Mousebird (Colius leucocephalus)
The White-headed Mousebird has a grey-brown upperside with barring on the back, neck, and chest, a silvery-white head and crest, a dark face mask and throat, a dark-tipped, blue-grey bill, a white stripe on the back, and a brownish underside.
Their typical call is a soft tet call.
White-headed Mousebirds occur in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, where they live in thorny scrublands and dry savannas.
They grow to between 11.4 and 12.2 in (29 and 31 cm) in length and weigh between 1 and 1.5 oz (28 and 42 g).
The White-headed Mousebird has a stable population and a large range, so it doesn’t reach any thresholds of concern. Therefore, it is listed as a species of minor concern.
2. Genus Urocolius
2.1 Blue-naped Mousebird (Urocolius macrourus)
The Blue-naped Mousebird has grey-brown upper parts, a grey back, a light brown head and crown, pale grey underparts, a red bill, red facial skin, and a blue patch on the nape.
They typically call in flight, producing a low-pitched treeeeuw call.
They are distributed throughout eastern, western, and parts of central Africa. They usually occur in arid savanna but may also be seen in open woodlands and bushy habitats.
Blue-naped Mousebirds weigh 1.2 to 2.3 oz (34 to 65 g) and grow from 13 to 14.2 in (33 to 36 cm) long.
Their population is decreasing, but they have a healthy population size. Therefore, they are considered a species of low conservation concern.
2.2 Red-faced Mousebird (Urocolius indicus)
The Red-faced Mousebird has greyish-brown plumage overall, darker upper parts, and pale underparts with a buffy chest. They have red skin on their faces, buffy foreheads, pale rump patches, and red bills with black tips.
They grow from 11.4 to 14.6 in (29 to 37 cm) in length and weigh between 1.1 and 2.8 oz (32 and 79 g).
These mousebirds are found in many habitat types, such as savannas, scrublands, fynbos, orchards, wooded residential areas, and woodlands. They occur in southern and central Africa.
Like other mousebirds, they call in flight frequently, producing a ti-wii-wii call.
Red-faced Mousebirds are a species of low conservation concern due to their extensive range. However, their population trend is unknown.
The mousebirds are spectacular birds with plump bodies and long tails, only found in Africa. They are a family you need to see during a visit to Africa.
It is excellent news that Africa’s mousebirds aren’t under conservation concern due to their relatively high population sizes and large geographic distributions.
As with other creatures, mousebirds face threats such as habitat destruction and human disturbance at nest sites. Mousebirds are also popular pets so the pet trade may threaten them.
In the case of increasing population sizes, it could be owed to the mousebirds’ adaptability. They benefit from human expansion and increased availability of shelter, nesting sites, and food in residential areas.