The mousebirds are quite appropriately named, as they are distinctly mouse-like as they move about through the branches of the trees that they inhabit, feeding on a variety of fruit, flowers, and leaves. They are often seen perched on a branch facing the sun, legs spayed and belly exposed to the warm rays. The White-backed mousebirds are about 34 cm in length, of which roughly half is the pointed tail. The upperparts, head, prominent crest and breast are grey; the lower back white, bordered with black; the rump maroon; the belly buff. The bill is bluish white with a black tip, and the legs and feet are red. Sexes are alike in plumage and the males are slightly bigger than the females.
The White-backed mousebird is endemic to the Southern African region, where it prefers dry habitats, such as thornveld, scrub and semi-desert, and is a common throughout the drier areas of Southern Africa. It also makes itself at home in farmyards, gardens and, being a lover of fruit, in orchards. They are conspicuously gregarious, found in groups that interact with mutual preening and communicate with sharp krik-krik vocalisations and a variety of other sounds, including a pleasant whistled zwee-wewit. They roost in tightly-knit groups at night.
The White-backed mousebirds are monogamous and the paired birds both participate in building an untidy nest in the shape of a bowl, with a diameter of about 6 cm, from dry plant material that is usually lined with fine plant material. The nest is usually located in a bush or tree, well above the ground. The clutch is most often 2 to 4 eggs, and these hatch after an incubation period of about 13 days.
The scientific name of the White-backed mousebird is Colius colius. The derivation of colius seems to be the subject of some conjecture, but may be from the Greek koleos meaning a scabbard or sheath, presumably referring to the long tail. Seems a bit odd, though, doesn’t it?