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Colius colius (White-backed mousebird) 

Witkruismuisvoël [Afrikaans]; Letsôrô, Mmamarungwane, Rramatsiababa [Tswana]; Witstuitmuisvogel [Dutch]; Coliou à dos blanc [French]; Weißrücken-mausvogel [German]; Rabo-de-junco-de-dorso-branco [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Coliiformes > Family: Coliidae

Colius colius (White-backed mousebird) Colius colius (White-backed mousebird)

White-backed mousebird. [photo Jim Scarff ©]

White-backed mousebird brooding chicks on nest. [photo Peter Steyn ©]

Colius colius (White-backed mousebird) 
White-backed mousebird, Prince Albert, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The White-backed mousebird is endemic, being found mainly in South Africa and Namibia. It prefers to live in sparse woodland, often with a river nearby, also farmyards, gardens and orchards. It eats plant matter - mainly fruit but also leaves, flowers, shoots and nectar. The nest is built by both sexes, and is a scruffy bowl made of twigs, leaves and grass. It lays 1-6 eggs, which are incubated by both parents, for 11-13 days. Strangely, the chicks are brooded non-stop, from when they hatch to when they leave the nest. In captivity, the chicks stay in the nest for 11-20 days, becoming independent at about 21 days old.

Distribution and habitat

Near-endemic to southern Africa, occurring from south-western Angola to Namibia, western and cental South Africa and southern Botswana.. It generally prefers the area around rivers running through sparse woodland. It can also be found in farmyards, gardens and orchards. In the Western Cape it is also common in Port Jackson willow (Acacia saligna) and Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops) thickets.

Distribution of White-backed mousebird in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


It feeds exclusively on plants, especially fruit but also leaves, shoots, flowers and nectar. It usually forages in trees, bushes and shrubs, rarely going down to the ground to pick up a fallen fruit. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plants
    • fruit
      • Lycium (Honey-thorns)
      • Mistletoe (Loranthaceae and Viscaceae)
      • Atriplex semibaccata (alien Creeping saltbush)
      • cultivated fruits
        • poeaches
        • plums
        • apricots
    • leaves
      • Lycium (Honey-thorns)
    • flowers
      • Schinus molle (Pepper-tree)
      • Melia azedarach (alien Persian lilac)
      • Lycium (Honey-thorns)
    • shoots
    • nectar of Aloe greatheadii (Spotted Aloe)


  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a small, shallow bowl of twigs, leaves and grass. It is often lined with fluffy seeds, down and occasionally sheep's wool.
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from September-October.
  • It lays 1-6, usually 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 11-13 days. Once the chicks have hatched, the eggshells are trampled into the nest.
  • Strangely, the chicks are brooded non-stop from when they hatch to when they leave the nest. In captivity, the chicks stay in the nest for 11-20 days, becoming independent at about 21 days old.


Not threatened, although its population has been impacted by hunting by fruit farmers, who consider them a pest.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.