mousebird or coly (kōˈlē) [key], common name for small, slender birds, comprising six species in the single genus Colius of the family Coliidae. They resemble mice in their soft, hairlike body feathers, typically gray or brown in color, and their habit of creeping and scurrying about on trees and bushes. They are versatile acrobats, and can feed in any position, often hanging upside down. Their long, stiff tails, which are more than twice the body length, crested heads, and strong, curved claws give them a resemblance to the woodpeckers, whom they also resemble in their tree-climbing adaptation. Unlike the woodpeckers, however, mousebirds are further aided in climbing by a reversible outer toe. They have stubby, finchlike bills, and feed on a diet of berries and fruit. Mousebirds are gregarious and are found in bands of 20 to 30 throughout the orchard and brush country of sub-Saharan Africa. The birds lay from two to seven eggs per clutch, either plain cream or white, and speckled with brown, in nests ranging from shallow cups of fibrous material (such as those built by the blue-naped mousebird, C. macrourus ) to twig and root, leaf-lined platforms. Nesting duties are perfomed by both parents. The young hatch in two weeks, after which they are fed partially digested, regurgitated food. Mousebirds are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Coliiformes, family Coliidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.