A bold, “trusting” demeanor and strikingly-beautiful plumage has rendered the Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) a popular bird both in and out of captivity. Throughout its range, hotels and restaurants attract these little dynamos with bowls of sugar water, much to the delight of their patrons. Bananaquits provided me with an excellent introduction to softbill-keeping when I began working for bird importers and zoos, and they remain a hardy favorite of aviculturists worldwide.
Forty-one Bananaquit subspecies (an avian record?) have been described. Most are gray to black above and sport brilliant yellow under-parts (somewhat paler in most females) and a striking white eye streak. The down-curving bill, specialized for harvesting nectar, is long and sharp.
There is a good deal of variation in coloration across the range, and the calls of widely-separated groups vary as well. In common with hummingbirds, honey-eaters and similar birds, the Bananaquit’s tongue is lined with bristly projections to facilitate nectar collection.
Once classified with the warblers and tanagers, these 4.5 inch long birds are now placed in the family Coerebidae, of which they are the only members.
The huge range extends from southeastern Mexico through most of the Caribbean and south to northeastern Argentina. Bananaquits are also established in Florida (no surprise!).
Bananaquits occupy a wide variety of habitats, including lowland forests, farms, overgrown fields, parks and gardens. I’ve observed them with equal regularity along forest streams in Costa Rica and in the heart of Caracas,Venezuela.
In common with flower-peckers, Bananaquits pierce flower bases to get at the nectar within. Although this feeding method is often termed “nectar-robbing”, as pollination is not assisted, field studies have shown that Bananaquits do accumulate and distribute pollen as they forage. Soft fruits are handled in the same manner. Aphids, small spiders and other invertebrates are also consumed.
Bananaquits in Captivity
These little beauties make delightful additions to one’s bird collection. Those I’ve kept were unfailingly curious and became quite tame once acclimated. Even in huge zoo exhibits (where they held their own among Cock-of-the Rocks and other large birds), several individuals became bold enough to drink nectar from a tube that I held in hand.
Despite their small size, Bananquits should be given as large an enclosure as is possible. They really come into their own in an outdoor aviary or indoor bird room. While success has been had in large cages, their active lifestyle is best accommodated in an aviary. Full-spectrum lighting should be provided indoors.
Flowering plants and ripe fruit will attract insects, and your birds will then delight you with their hunting skills. Bananaquits do best when kept occupied by foraging…they are certainly not content sitting in small cages, and would likely be stressed when kept so.
Dried grasses and other nesting material should always be available, as Bananaquits roost within nests year-round.
The basic diet should consist of finely-diced banana (not a staple, despite their name), pears, papaya, orange, grapes and a variety of other fruits rolled into a high quality insectivorous bird food such as Aves Insectile Mix.
Goldenfeast Nectar or a similar product should be provided 2-3 times per week. If nectar is offered ad lib, Bananaquits will consume it to the exclusion of all else and develop nutritional deficiencies as a result. Nectar may also be dribbled onto commercial insectile bird food to help encourage acceptance.
A variety of insects is also essential to their good health, and to breeding success. An insect trap, such as the Zoo Med Bug Napper, is very helpful in maintaining these entertaining birds in top condition. Tiny wild insects, sometimes termed “field plankton”, can also be collected by sweeping a net through tall grass in pesticide-free locations; please write in for further information.
Fruit flies are easily reared or attracted into aviaries, and praying mantis egg cases can be ordered commercially and hatched to provide additional live food items; please see this article for more information. Other insects can be attracted into the aviary by flowering plants and fruit.
Bananaquits pick up and inspect every morsel offered, so the soft-food part of their diet should be finely ground to prevent the choosing of favored items (Aves Insectile works well in this regard). Also, Bananaquits scatter a good deal of food, and so should be fed more heavily than similarly-sized birds.
Breeding is most easily accomplished in a well-planted aviary housing a single pair. Depending upon the origin of your birds, reproduction may occur year-round (2-3 clutches), during the spring, or in response to increased rainfall.
The roofed grass nest is globular in shape and equipped with a side or downward-facing entranceway. The female incubates her 2-4 eggs for 12-13 days, and the chicks fledge on day 14-21. A large supply of fruit flies and other tiny insects is essential for the chicks’ survival. Sponge cake soaked in nectar should also be provided to parents with chicks.
Field studies have shown that Bananaquits nesting near wasp colonies are more successful in rearing chicks (and retaining mates!) than those using other sites…relocating a wasp colony to your aviary will prevent you from disturbing the pair with nest checks, so you may wish to consider this if nest abandonment becomes a problem!
Bananaquit on flower image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Wolfgang Wander
Bananaquits image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Leon Bojarczuk