White-backed Mousebird (Colius colius)

Cover image: White-backed Mousebird by Ryan Tippett – BirdPix 103558 White-backed Mousebird


The White-backed Mousebird has a grey head, prominent crest, and grey upper parts and breast. It has a white stripe on its back which is flanked by two broad black stripes and a dark red, or maroon, transverse band at the base of its tail. The white stripe is not visible unless the wings are at least partly open. White-backed Mousebirds have bright pink legs and feet and a whitish bill with a black tip.

Identification guide to the White-backed Mousebird
Left: BirdPix 61059 – Marna Buys, Cape Town, Western Cape, 24 September 2017. Right: BirdPix 28860 – Dieter Oschadleus, Bellville, Western Cape, 09 August 2016.

It has a whistled zwee-wewit call. It also has a buzzing or crackling call that might be for alarm or keeping in contact with the group.

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


It is a Near-endemic to southern Africa, occurring from south-western Angola to Namibia, western and central South Africa and southern Botswana. In the SABAP2 map below the blue and green squares represent the core of the White-backed Mousebird’s range in South Africa.

SABAP2 distribution map for the White-backed Mousebird
SABAP2 distribution map for White-backed Mousebird, downloaded on 11 November 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.


The White-backed Mousebird generally prefers riverine habitat in sparse woodland areas. It can also be found in farmyards, gardens and orchards. In the Western Cape it is quite common in Port Jackson Acacia saligna and Rooikrans Acacia cyclops thickets.

White-backed Mousebird in a tree
BirdPix 222218 – Sharon Stanton, Helderberg Village, Somerset West, Western Cape, 05 June 2022.


The White-backed Mousebird is a frugivore which subsists on fruits, berries, leaves, seeds and nectar. Its fruit-eating habits are an important factor in spreading the seeds of indigenous berry-producing plants such as Halleria lucida.

Habitats for Colius colius
Left: BirdPix 117558 – Terry & Maria Terblanche, Twee Rivieren, Northern Cape, 16 August 2013. Right: BirdPix 85393 – Les Underhill, Melkbosstrand, Western Cape, 20 July 2019.

When breeding, 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.

White-backed Mousebirds are very social birds. During the day, they feed together in small groups and engage in mutual preening. They also roost in groups at night. Their perching habits can be quite amusing; almost hanging from their legs rather than perching normally like most birds. It’s very common for them to grip different upright branches of a plant with each leg.

White-backed Mousebird in a shrub
Hanging in there – BirdPix 221622 – Itxaso Quintana, Laingsburg, Western Cape.

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: Witkruismuisvoël (Afrikaans); Letsôrô (Tswana); Coliou à dos blanc (French); Weißrücken-mausvogel (German); Witstuitmuisvogel (Dutch).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. White-backed Mousebird Colius colius. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2022/11/11/white-backed-mousebird-colius-colius/

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.