Coliiformes– Mousebirds

These African birds drop their body temperature considerably when in energy-saving mode!

A distinctive order of small, sparrow-sized birds endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, where they inhabit a variety of environments from dry scrublands to lush savannas, often found at the edges of forests and along riverside vegetation. Their name ‘mousebird’ derives from their unique behavior of scurrying through the foliage, reminiscent of mice, a trait coupled with their soft, greyish to brown plumage and rounded bodies, which enhance the comparison.

These birds are easily recognized by their elongated, thin tails, which can be twice the length of their body, and a crest of feathers on their heads that can be raised or lowered at will. The crest, along with their fluffed-up feathers, gives them a distinctive silhouette and is often a key feature in identification.

Mousebirds are frugivorous, with a diet mainly consisting of fruits and berries, but they also supplement their intake with leaves, buds, and the occasional insect, which they deftly pluck from the underside of leaves while hanging upside down—a feat made possible by their strong, zygodactyl feet. Their toes are unique among birds; all four can be pointed forward to facilitate their acrobatic feeding habits.

Their social behavior is notable; mousebirds are rarely found alone, preferring the company of their colony. They exhibit complex social structures and are known to roost in tight clusters, which serves the dual purpose of enhancing warmth during cooler periods and strengthening social bonds within the group. During times of food scarcity or unfavorable weather, mousebirds enter a state of torpor, significantly lowering their metabolic rate to conserve energy—a rare behavior among birds.

In addition to their peculiar foraging and roosting habits, mousebirds are also known for their distinctive vocalizations and sunbathing behavior, where they spread their wings and tails to absorb warmth. Despite their small size and somewhat drab coloring, these birds have a playful demeanor, often seen hanging from branches and interacting with each other in a manner that is as endearing as it is entertaining to observe.