August 27, 2019

Bananaquits in our Gardens

Image by Matt Magillivray
Recently, a pair of modestly colored, unusual birds have moved into the entrance area at Pinecrest Gardens. Occasionally found in South Florida, they most likely have flown here from the Bahamas. They are quite noticeable, actively flitting from shrub to signpost to roofline to trees. Their frequent singing is loud and pleasant; we hope that they stay and perhaps nest here.                                                         

The Bananquit, Coereba flaveola, is a small bird of the New World tropics. The species belongs to the large avian group known as perching birds, a taxonomic order that includes many of the best known and liked songbirds, including their close relatives, the Tanagers. Bananaquits are small and mostly grey, with white or bright yellow breasts and white-striped heads. They are inhabit a wide geographical range that includes much of the South American tropics and subtropics east of the Andes Mountains, parts of Central America and Mexico, and Caribbean and Antillean islands. They live in diverse habitats, including open forests and scrub, and also live and nest in gardens in urban areas.
Bananaquits consume some insects. Mostly, they use their slender, down-curved bills to pierce flowers for their nectar and eat sweet fruit, their primary foods. Although it is a poor food source, people often use granulated sugar or syrup to attract them to bird feeders. They are bold creatures that seem comfortable around human noise and activity.

Like so many other organisms, there are unanswered mysteries about the birds. One question concerns their distribution: why are Bananaquits only found in some places, but not others, e.g. Cuba, that would seem to have suitable habitat? How often do they occur in Florida? What accounts for the great variability in the physical appearance of different populations? Off the Venezuelan coast and on some other islands, for example, the birds are nearly entirely black. It seems that what biologists classified as a single species might actually be several different birds!
To hear a Bananaquit singing, open this YouTube video:

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