In my Costa Rican garden: Bananaquit

Bananaquit (Coereba flaviola): Reinita mielera; Sucrier à ventre jaune; Zuckervogel

Found in gardens almost everywhere in the tropics in the Caribbean and south from southern Mexico, this attractive little bird has until now resisted definite classification into any bird family. There are many opinions but little agreement. It is thus said to be Incertae sedis, i.e. Of uncertain placement. There may be as many as 40 different subspecies throughout its considerable range. Strangely, it is not resident in Cuba, where it is considered a vagrant. In south Florida it is also only a rare visitor.

In both German and French it is called the ‘sugar bird’ because it competes for nectar at many of the same flowers visited by hummingbirds. Its downcurved bill is adapted for this purpose, but the Bananaquit, unlike hummingbirds, must perch to feed since it cannot hover. Like hummers it will also take insects but in addition it obtains sugar from fruits such as güitite berries:

Adult Bananaquit with güitite berries; photo by John Beer

Grey above and yellow below, the Bananaquit is as small as most warblers. Key features to look for are the broad white stripe on the head and a white patch on the wing. This feature is seen well here below, even though immatures are in general drabber than adult birds:

Immature Bananaquit perched on heliconia; photo by John Beer

Bananaquits nest in or near many gardens, including mine in San Antonio and John and Milena’s lower down in Santa Rosa de Turrialba:

Bananaquit carrying nesting material, May 2020, Santa Rosa: photo by John Beer

Bananaquits build new nests year-round. Both parents contribute to the construction. The nest is a roughly globular loosely-built affair, which hangs from the end of a branch and has a side entrance when finished. When a nest is needed only for roosting, it is very quickly constructed and would be only one third the size of this breeding nest being built below:

Bananaquit adds to half-built nest; photo by John Beer

After about a week’s work the nest is complete. Here’s a finished nest down on the Río Tuis with one of the proud builders looking on. Only the female incubates the eggs, usually without leaving the nest for around 13 days. But, since sexes look alike, we don’t know for sure if the birds featured in these photos are male or female. Bananaquits are thought to be a monogamous species.

Ready to start a family! Bananaquit at rest surveys a completed nest. Photo by John Beer

These final full-length images show typical adult plumage, with the grey throat being particularly noticeable:

Bananaquit: File photo from 2018, Santa Rosa. Photo by John Beer
Bananaquit, August 2020 in Santa Rosa; note the relatively short tail. Photo by John Beer

The Bananaquit is an entertaining and often acrobatic little bird that you can’t fail to spot when you visit Costa Rica.

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