Coliidae – Mousebirds

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

These species are the only members of the bird order Coliiformes, which is notable for its distinct evolutionary path, separate from other birds. Mousebirds are so named due to their soft, mouse-like plumage and the way they scuttle through branches, reminiscent of rodents.

Mousebirds are relatively small, with body lengths ranging from 25 to 30 centimeters (10 to 12 inches), most of which is accounted for by their elongated, graduated tails. These tails are not just for show; they provide balance and maneuverability among the dense vegetation where mousebirds forage. Their crests, which can be raised or lowered depending on the bird’s mood and social interactions, add to their distinctive silhouette.

In terms of plumage, mousebirds typically exhibit various shades of brown, with subtle differences between species. This coloration provides excellent camouflage against the bark of trees and the scrublands they inhabit.

Mousebirds are highly social creatures, often seen in groups called ‘colonies,’ which can comprise family groups or be formed from unrelated individuals. These colonies are a crucial aspect of mousebird behavior, providing benefits such as thermoregulation through communal roosting, where they cluster together for warmth during the night or in colder weather.

The diet of mousebirds primarily consists of fruits, berries, and leaves, supplemented by the occasional small insect. They are opportunistic feeders and have adapted to hang upside down to access food, using their strong feet and reversible outer toes. This dexterity allows them to manipulate food items and forage efficiently.

The anatomy of mousebirds is also quite specialized for their lifestyle. Their gizzard is muscular, assisting in the digestion of hard, fibrous plant material. They also exhibit a unique crop milk production system, similar to pigeons, which they use to feed their young.