Mousebirds are a uniquely African order of six species, named for their habit of clambering around the branches of trees and shrubs in a very rodent-like manner. Speckled Mousebirds, both the largest and the most widely distributed of the family, inhabits thickets, moist savannas, woodlands and forests, and particularly the edges of these, as well as well-wooded drainage lines, exotic plantations and suburban parks and gardens in otherwise unsuitable areas (such as the grasslands of our Highveld). They feed on fruit, berries, seeds, leaves, buds, flowers and nectar. Adults are around 35cm long (their tail making up roughly half of this) and weigh about 55g.
Speckled Mousebirds congregate in small flocks of 5 to 20 birds, moving around from tree to tree one after the other, and often in association with other kinds of mousebirds. Breeding in Speckled Mousebirds have been recorded throughout the year, with a peak in spring and summer. Nests are untidy cups of grass lined with fine material built in trees or shrubs. Clutches of 1 to 7 eggs are incubated by both parents for a period of two weeks. Some males may have active nests with more than one female. Chicks start leaving the nest to clamber around the branches when they’re about 10 days old, and become independent at only three weeks of age. Breeding pairs may have as many as 6 helpers assisting to raise their latest brood.
The IUCN describes the Speckled Mousebird as common and widespread with an increasing population and distribution, listing it as being of least concern. They occur from Cameroon in the west to Ethiopia in the east and then southwards to South Africa, being absent from the equatorial forests and arid south-west of the continent. In South Africa they can be found in all our provinces, excluding the driest parts of the Free State, Northern Cape and North West Province.