What are Mousebirds

The mousebirds are a small family of birds, the Coliidae (order Coliiformes), that live exclusively in Africa.  They are brown or grey in color but have long tails and conspicuous crests.  Their feathers are thick, soft and almost fur-like, due to prominent after-shafts that make the feathers fluffy.  This may contribute to their common name, but they also clamber about on tree limbs in a very unbird-like manner.  Mousebirds have long sharp claws and share a unique ability with the swifts to be able to direct all four toes forward at once (syndactyly).  They feed on fruit, flowers, leaves and buds; and can be very destructive in orchards.  Their beaks are strong and well suited for tearing open tough-skinned fruits.

Mousebirds occur south of the Sahara desert in most habitats from bush to savanna and acacia country, but not in thick rainforest.  They occur from sea level up to 2400 m.  They are sedentary and do not migrate.  Mousebirds are sociable and gregarious. and so are usually found in flocks. They are noisy and call to each other as they fly or feed. There are six species, all of which are in the genus Colius, which gives them their other common name of colie.  The six species are the white headed, the chestnut backed, the white backed, the blue-naped, the bar breasted and the red faced mousebird.  All have long tails with ten feathers.

Mousebirds build nests in thick vegetation just above ground level.  They are usually made of twigs in a cup shape, lined with soft material and decorated with flowers.  Eggs are laid at irregular intervals and both sexes incubate.  Females may lay eggs in communal nests and help each other incubate.  Males have also been seen sharing duties at the same nest.  Because incubation begins with the first egg laid, hatching occurs over several days or weeks.  The young are then cared for in the nest by all parents for from 4 to 6 weeks.

At this point none of the mousebird species is considered endangered or threatened.  In some countries they are considered to be agricultural pests because of their destructive feeding habits in orchards.

Some people are now keeping mousebirds as pets.  Check out this website if you are interested in keeping these birds in captivity:  http://www.mousebirds.com/

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