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(Coereba flaveola)
West Indies, Caribbean

General Information

The Bananaquit is a common resident throughout the West Indies, and the Caribbean mainland from Southern Mexico south to southern Brazil and northeast Argentina. On Cuba, however, it is considered a vagrant. The factors that result in a lack of these birds on Cuba remain an ecological mystery. Cuba does host the smallest bird in the world, the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)!

The Bananaquit is most numerous in settled districts and secondary growth. It is a highly sociable bird common in and around gardens where flowers are abundant. The Bananaquit visits flowers for nectar and insects. They cannot hover as do hummingbirds, so perform entertaining acrobatic maneuvers to pierce the base of the flowers of trees and shrubs to obtain (steal) nectar without pollinating the flower. Their high reproductive potential and exceptional dispersal ability (a.k.a. supertramps) make these birds superb island colonists. They readily cross bodies of water and even periodically occur in southern Florida.

The Bananaquit is a small honeycreeper (4-5 inches long). The black back, down-curved bill, white eyebrow stripe, white wing spot, and yellow breast, belly and rump identify this bird. The throat can vary from white to black. Plumage is variable on some islands, and black morphs occur on Grenada and St. Vincent.

Figure 1 – Bananaquit
(Eleuthera Island, Bahamas)

Figure 2 – Bananaquit
(Eleuthera Island, Bahamas)

The extended wing of the Bananaquit shows white at the base of the primary feathers, and a yellow spot on the leading edge of the wing.

Birds spend quite a bit of time caring for their feathers. The Bananaquit, as do most species of birds, has a special preen gland (uropygial gland) on their back at the base of the tail. The gland produces a special mixture of waxes and oils that the bird uses to coat its feathers. This coating keeps the feathers flexible, resilient, and water resistant, and provides some protection against parasites and bacteria.

Figure 3 – Bananaquit Preen Gland

Figure 4 – Bananaquits (Antigua, West Indies)

As this photo demonstrates, Bananaquits readily visit feeders for sugar water. How many BananquIts are in this photo? (I am still counting!) Our thanks go to Martha Watkins Gilkes of Antigua for kindly providing this photo and the photos in Figures 5 and 6. Martha explained that she decided to provide feeders for the Bananaquits and other birds on Antigua after Hurricane Luis struck the island in 1995 and destroyed the flowering vegetation that these birds depend on.

This is an enhancement of the feeder in Figure 4. Compare the plumage of these Bananaquits on Antigua with the Bananaquit on Eleuthera Island in Figures 1, 2, and 3. Note that the birds shown here have black throats, and the ones on Eleuthera have white throats.

Figure 5 – Close up of Figure 4

Figure 6 – Bananaquit, nest and young on Antigua

Bananaquits build a globular nest of grasses, leaves and plant fibers located from 5 to 30 feet above ground, sometimes higher. This one has been placed in some decorative netting on a porch.

The entrance is located facing downward in the lower part of the nest. Several nests may be built, with some used only as sleeping quarters. The nests may be built near a wasp nest to provide protection against predators. Different nests may be used on different nights for roosting, with one to several birds sharing a sleeping nest.

Breeding peaks from March to June. As with many tropical bird species, breeding is directly related to rainy seasons. Two to 4 whitish eggs with brown flecks and a reddish tint hatch in about 12 to 13 days. Young leave the nest in 15 to 18 days.

Figure 7 - Close up of Figure 6

Banding Recoveries

Between 1955 and 2000, 12,074 Bananaquits were banded. A 2003 survey in the Caribbean (Jamaica, Mexico and Puerto Rico) to detect resident and migratory birds infected with West Nile Virus found that Bananaquits do harbor the West Nile Virus (Dupuis II et al. 2003).

If you should recover a banded Bananaquit, please report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Conservation Status

Common resident throughout the West Indies, Southern Mexico south to southern Brazil and northeast Argentina. Most numerous in settled districts and secondary growth. Adapts well to human activity. Lives in borders of open country, plantations, towns and forests.

With the wide distribution of this bird on so many islands and across so many diverse cultures of the Caribbean, it is not surprising to find that there are a plethora of colorful common names for this bird, including Sugar Bird, Teasy, Beeny Bird (Jamaica), Yellowbreast (Lesser Antilles), Banana Bird (Bahamas, Nevis, Cayman Islands), See-See Bird, Black See-See (Grenada, St. Vincent), Ciguita (Dominican Republic), Reinita (Puerto Rico), Sucrier (Haiti), Falle Juane, Sicrie Cage (Guadeloupe), Sucrier à Poitrine Juane, Sucrier à Vente Jaune, (Guadeloupe, Martinique), Suikerdiefje (Saba, St. Eustis, St. Martin), Paw-paw Bird, Marley Quit, Bessie Coban, Honey-sucker, Gusanero, and Yellowbird (Antigua).

Interesting Trivia

You may have noted the name of the author of the Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies listed below. Yes, the author really is James Bond!

Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond character, was an avid wildlife watcher, and was acquainted with the real James Bond, who was curator of Birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Field GuideThe real James Bond began his research on Birds of the West Indies in 1926, and continued throughout his career. As the story is told, after WWII, Ian Fleming retired from British Intelligence and built his estate, named Goldeneye, on the north shore of Jamaica. The best Caribbean field guide available to birders at that time was likely the field guide by James Bond. Ian kept a copy of "Birds of the West Indies" by James Bond on his kitchen table at Goldeneye, and later chose this name for his famous character.

John Pearson wrote in his biography of Ian Fleming that "James Bond was born at Goldeneye on the morning of the third Tuesday of January, 1952, when Ian Fleming had just finished breakfast..." (Pearson 1966).

James Bond and his wife visited Ian at Goldeneye in the early 1960's. John Pearson describes this visit as follows: "The ornithologist who wrote Fleming's favorite 'Birds of the West Indies' was visiting Jamaica with his wife, and far from being annoyed at what had happened to his name since Fleming first borrowed it without permission, invited himself to lunch. Fleming found them 'a charming couple who are amused by the whole joke.'"

There is an interesting scene in the Bond movie "Die Another Day." Pierce Brosnon arrives in Cuba to meet his contact. He retrieves a book from the shelf and looks it over. The book he picked up was a copy of the "Birds of the West Indies" by James Bond! Bond then retrieved a pair of field glasses and took both the book and the field glasses and a fast car to his next scene. There he passed himself off as an ornithologist!

Further Reading

Baicich, P. J. and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd Edition. Academic Press, NY. 347 Pp.

Bond, James. 1993. A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. 5th Edition Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., NY. 256 Pp.

Budenell-Bruce, P.G, C. 1975. The Birds of New Providence and the Bahama Islands. Collins, Grafton Street, London. 142 Pp.

Dupuis II, A. P., P. P. Marra, L. D. Kramer (2003) Serologic Evidence of West Nile Virus Transmission, Jamaica, West Indies. Emerging Infectious Diseases 9(7):860-863 July 2003.

Pearson, John. 1966. The Life of Ian Fleming. McGraw-Hill Book Company, NY. 366Pp.

Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, and J. Raffaele. 1998. A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 510 Pp.

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