There are six species of mousebirds found in Africa and they can not be found on any of the other continents. Mousebirds are not closely related to any other birds so they form their own order: coliiformes. Mousebirds have a habit of creeping along branches in trees and thickets resembling mice or other rodents and this is where they get their name. They tend to live in groups and I often see them quite close to each other like this group of five that we saw at Blue Lagoon N.P..
Red-faced Mousebirds are the only kind that we find in southern and central Zambia but there is one other species in the north, namely the Speckled Mousebird. Their habitat is listed as thornveld and open, broadleafed woodland, as well as suburban gardens. When I see them they are often in the low, thick bushes such as bougainvillea and lantana. Often they can be hard to see since they like to stay inside the bushes and cling to the branches, but sometimes they come out into the open.
The other day, Jonathan sat out with his camera and got a few photos. First the mousebirds started a group preening session.
Then they started grooming each other.
Recently I was asked by a friend why I enjoy birds so much. Was it their beauty, their songs, their colors, what? It is all of those things, but it is also the fact that there is so much variety and so much to learn about birds. There is always something new and interesting to learn. When I was looking at the pictures that Jonathan took and I saw this next one, it looked like this bird was eating the leaf. For a minute I actually doubted what was clearly happening because I had never heard of birds eating plants or leaves before. They eat insects or seeds, fruits, nectar, and in the case of raptors, lizards and mammals. Not plants, or so I thought.
“[Mousebirds] are. . .omnivorous birds, eating insects, small millipedes and plant material. Urocolius indicus [Red-faced Mousebird] in particular eats a great deal of fruit, leaves, buds, flowers, nectar and similar material,” quoted from Gordon Maclean’s Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa. There are only a few birds that eat leaves, mainly because they do not contain enough energy. There is a whole blog post about it here. One more interesting thing is that birds that eat plants often do not fly well, since plants are heavy and more of them need to be eaten by weight as compared to insects or fruit. Red-faced Mousebirds are a good example of this since you don’t see them flying around much but rather, they often just glide from tree to bush. Of course they can fly, but they don’t much.
This final picture is my favorite. The mousebirds are generally grey, but this picture shows the bird with a sort of greenish tinge and then the typical buffy areas on the chest and face. It seems to me to be almost the exact color of the lantana leaves when they are covered with dust as they are just behind the bird. Perfect camouflage! With its long tail, short crest and striking face mask: another beautiful bird.