Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus)

Cover photo: BirdPix 110 – Lia Steen Speckled Mousebird


The Speckled Mousebird has sandy brown to ashy brown plumage feathers along its head and back and warmer brown feathers along its belly. It has long brown tail feathers and dark eyes and its bill is black on top and whitish underneath.

The northern sub-species has whitish ear coverts, pale eyes, and pinkish to red legs.

Identification guide to Speckled Mousebird
Adult Speckled Mousebird – Main photo: BirdPix 8322 – Gregg & Darling Desire, Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, 14 June 2014. Northern Subspecies – Photo inset: BirdPix 39085 – Dieter Oschadleus, Entebbe, Uganda, 15 July 2017.

Speckled Mousebirds are quite vocal. They make a warbling tsu-tsu call while in flight, and are known for their tisk-tisk alarm call.

There are two other species of mousebird in southern Africa, the Red-faced Mousebird and the White-backed Mousebird.


The Speckled Mousebird is the most widely distributed mousebird in Africa. It occurs from Cameroon to Ethiopia, through southern Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, northern Zambia and northern Angola to southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is common in eastern Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa, largely excluding the arid Northern Cape Province. It is very adaptable, occurring in forest edges, thickets, gardens, orchards, strandveld, riverine woodland, and alien tree plantations.

SABAP2 distribution map, Speckled Mousebird
SABAP2 distribution map for Speckled Mousebird, downloaded on 04 August 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.


The Speckled Mousebird prefers open bushveld habitats. It is widespread in savanna and open woodlands, as well as areas with tangled thickets. It is a common “backyard bird,” often seen in urban gardens and orchards.

Speckled Mousebird in gardent
Speckled Mousebird perched in a garden tree – BirdPix 215697: Lia Steen, Shellybeach, KwaZulu-Natal, 08 April 2022.


It feeds on a wide variety of plant matter, especially fruit, but also flowers, nectar, leaves, buds and bark. It usually forages in the mid to upper tree canopy, often in groups of 5-20 birds. 

Speckled Mousebirds can be monogamous or polygamous, meaning that the male can have one ore multiple mates. They are also a cooperative breeders, with 2-6 juvenile helpers, some of which are not related to the breeding couple. Courtship is fairly elaborate, with preening, bouncing up and down on a perch and exchanging of food.

Colius striatus at a bird feeder
Enjoying the fruit at the bird feeder – BirdPix 196917: C. Wilson, Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, 20 January 2021.

The nest is a small, shallow bowl made of grass and herb stems, lined with soft material. It is typically placed 1-7 metres above ground in a tree or bush. The nestlings start to explore the branches surrounding the nest at about 10-11 days old, after which they start to preen each other. They stay in the nest for about 15-20 days, after which they become independent.

Colius striatus looking for food
Speckled Mousebird looking for food – BirdPix 213867: Lia Steen, Shellybeach, KwaZulu-Natal Province, 25 March 2022.

Further resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

More common names: Gevlekte muisvoël (Afrikaans); Indlazi (Xhosa); Fariki (South Sotho); Tshivhovo (Tsonga); Coliou rayé (French); Braunflügel-mausvogel (German).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M, Daniel KA 2022. Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2022/08/08/speckled-mousebird-colius-striatus/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.