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Mousebirds (Coliidae)

The mousebirds are a small order (Coliiformes) of birds with no known close affinities to other groups, though might be close to trogons and owls and perhaps passerine birds [1,2]. They are the only bird order confined to sub-Saharan Africa. They had a wider range in prehistoric times and apparently evolved in Europe. Mousebirds could be considered "living fossils" as the 6 living species are the survivors of a lineage that was much more diverse in the late Paleogene and Miocene (4,5). The family has exist since the Early Eocene onwards; by the Late Eocene or earlier, two families are existed: the extant Coliidae and the longer-billed, prehistorically extinct Sandcoleidae, which were given a separate order until scientists realized they had grouped ancestral Coraciiformes, parrots, sandcoleids and forms like Neanis in a paraphyletic assemblage. The sandcoleids are assumed to be monophyletic fafter the removal of these taxa, but many forms cannot be conclusively assigned to one family or the other. Selmes is probably a coliid, distantly related to the modern genera. The foot morphology, with very stubby toes, is 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.

The slender, greyish or brown mousebirds have soft, hairlike body feathers. They are typically @ 10 cm in body length, with a long, thin tail a further 20–24 cm long; they weigh 45–55 g [3]. They are arboreal and scurry through the leaves like rodents to find berries, fruit and buds. This habit, and their legs, gives rise to the name 'mousebird'. They are acrobatic and can feed upside down. They have strong claws, reversible outer toes (a pamprodactyl foot), crests and stubby bills. Mousebirds can perch without additional energy expenditure, due to an anatomical locking device, similar to that in bats (7) . They hang with their abdomen down between their legs and their feet at the upper thorax. They generally use their tails or lower abdomen to prop themselves against a small branch or another mousebird. When suspended like this, they can engage an anatomical device similar to that of bats that lets them perch without additional energy expenditure (6).

Mousebirds are gregarious and are found in bands of @ 20 in lightly wooded country. They build cup-shaped twig nests in trees, which are lined with grasses. They lay 2-4 eggs, hatching to give atricial young that develop quickly and soon leave the nest and acquire flight.


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