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Temporal range: Early Paleocene to present
Urocolius macrourus-20090110B.jpg
Blue-naped mousebird (Urocolius macrourus)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Coraciimorphae
Order: Coliiformes
Murie, 1872
Family: Coliidae
Swainson, 1837

For fossil taxa, see text.

The mousebirds are birds in the order Coliiformes. They are the sister group to the clade Eucavitaves, which includes the Leptosomiformes (the cuckoo roller), Trogoniformes (trogons), Bucerotiformes (hornbills and hoopoes), Piciformes (woodpeckers, toucans and barbets) and Coraciformes (kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, motmots, and todies).[1] This group is now confined to sub-Saharan Africa, and it is the only bird order confined entirely to that continent, with the possible exception of turacos which are considered by some as the distinct Order Musophagiformes, and the cuckoo roller, which is the only member of the order Leptosomiformes. Mousebirds had a wider range in the Paleogene, with a widespread distribution in Europe and North America during the Paleocene.[2][3]


Mousebirds are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers. They are typically about 10 cm in body length, with a long, thin tail a further 20–24 cm in length, and weigh 45–55 grams.[4] They are arboreal and scurry through the leaves like rodents, in search of berries, fruit and buds. This habit, and their legs, gives rise to the group's English name. They are acrobatic, and can feed upside down. All species have strong claws and reversible outer toes (pamprodactyl feet). They also have crests and stubby bills.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Mousebirds are gregarious, again reinforcing the analogy with mice, and are found in bands of about 20 in lightly wooded country. These birds build cup-shaped twig nests in trees, which are lined with grasses. Two to three eggs are typically laid.[5]

Systematics and evolution[edit]

The mousebirds could be considered "living fossils" as the 6 species extant today are merely the survivors of a lineage that was massively more diverse in the early Paleogene and Miocene. There are comparatively abundant fossils of Coliiformes, but it has not been easy to assemble a robust phylogeny. The family is documented to exist from the Early Paleocene onwards; by at least the Late Eocene, two families are known to have existed, the extant Coliidae and the longer-billed prehistorically extinct Sandcoleidae.[2]

The latter were previously a separate order,[6] but eventually it was realized that they had come to group ancestral Coraciiformes, the actual sandcoleids and forms like Neanis together in a paraphyletic assemblage. Even though the sandcoleids are now assumed to be monophyletic following the removal of these taxa, many forms cannot be conclusively assigned to one family or the other.[7] The genus Selmes, for example, is probably a coliid, but only distantly related to the modern genera.[8]

Extinct coliiforms occupied a wide range of ecologies. Sandcoleids in particular often preserve uncrushed seeds on their stomachs, while bearing talons similar to those of modern birds of prey.[9]


Order COLIIFORMES[10][11]


  1. ^ Jarvis, E. D.; Mirarab, S.; Aberer, A. J.; et al. (2014). "Whole-genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds". Science. 346 (6215): 1320–1331. Bibcode:2014Sci...346.1320J. doi:10.1126/science.1253451. PMC 4405904. PMID 25504713.
  2. ^ a b Ksepka, D.T.; Stidham, T.A.; Williamson, T.E. (2017). "Early Paleocene landbird supports rapid phylogenetic and morphological diversification of crown birds after the K–Pg mass extinction". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114 (30): 8047–8052. Bibcode:2017PNAS..114.8047K. doi:10.1073/pnas.1700188114. PMC 5544281. PMID 28696285.
  3. ^ Zelenkov, N.V. & Dyke, G.J. (2009) The fossil record and evolution of mousebirds (Aves: Coliiformes). Palaeontology, 51(6):1403–1418.
  4. ^ Cunningham-Van Someren, G.R. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-1-85391-186-6.
  5. ^ Winkler, D. W., S. M. Billerman, and I.J. Lovette (2020). Mousebirds (Coliidae), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, B. K. Keeney, P. G. Rodewald, and T. S. Schulenberg, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
  6. ^ Houde, Peter; Olson, Storrs L. (1992). "A radiation of coly-like birds from the Eocene of North America (Aves: Sandcoleiformes, new order)" (PDF). Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Series. 36: 137–160. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-05. Retrieved 2006-09-05.
  7. ^ Mayr, Gerald; Mourer-Chauviré, Cécile (1999). "Unusual tarsometatarsus of a mousebird from the Paleogene of France and the relationships of Selmes Peters, 1999" (PDF). J. Vertebr. Paleontol. 24 (2): 366–372. doi:10.1671/1970. S2CID 59146377.
  8. ^ It has a peculiar foot morphology not found in any other bird, with very stubby toes. The specific name absurdipes ("absurd foot") refers to this. The genus name is an anagram of "Messel", where it was first found.
  9. ^ Mayr, G. 2018. New data on the anatomy and palaeobiology of sandcoleid mousebirds (Aves, Coliiformes) from the early Eocene of Messel. Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments 98: 639-651. doi: 10.1007/s12549-018-0328-1
  10. ^ Mikko's Phylogeny Archive [1] Haaramo, Mikko (2007). "COLIIFORMES – mousebirds". Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  11. ^ [2]. "Aves". Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  12. ^ Similar to Urocolius and Limnatornis (if distinct): Mlíkovský (2002)
  13. ^ Peter Ballmann (1969): Les oiseaux miocènes de La Grive-Saint-Alban (Isère). – Géobios 2: p 157-204.
  14. ^ Storrs Olson (1985): The Fossil Record of Birds In: Avian Biology, No. 8: p. 79–238


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