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The Bananaquit or Sugar Bird – Natural History and Captive Care

Bananaquit on FlowerA 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.

Bananaquit on FlowerFlowering 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.


BananaquitsBreeding 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!



Further Reading

Video: Bananaquit at feeder

Bananaquits and wasps

Field Study 

Recordings of calls

Bananaquits as pollinators

Bananaquit on flower image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Wolfgang Wander
Bananaquits image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Leon Bojarczuk


  1. avatar

    Banaquits are such cute birds I’ve had many share my breakfast in the Caribbean. Here’s a pic I took last year in Costa Rica.


    Such personable birds!

  2. avatar

    Hi Amy,

    Nice to hear from you. Thanks for the great photo…shows clearly how the colors of wild individuals are often brighter than captives. I had them around our research station in CR as well; really a delight!

    Take care, Frank

  3. avatar

    i love the whole article about bananaquits, they are really reallyyyy cute!!! every morning, they’re asking for sugar on my window, it’s the only window with so many birds in my neighborhood, my mother actually got used to them, at first she thought “Omg, they’re will be diabetic” hehehe, it’s a spectacular show just watching them taking a bath many times a day, even painstakingly building their nest, i’ve find out that they dont like sharing the food with others, they allow only their family to enjoy the food, so i had to distribute sugar in different places in order to avoid a fighting among them. anyways, i’ve learnt a lot about bananaquits or sugar birds on this blog, thank you so much!!!

  4. avatar

    Hi Alicia,

    Thanks very much for your observation and the kind words!

    Hummingbirds, lorikeets and others that feed on nectar are also very territorial; in the wild,it seems to be a rare resource, so they must guard it. In the Bx Zoo we could only keep a single pair of hummingbirds in a giant exhibit. Interesting to hear that bananaquits act in the same way.

    Where is it that you see the bananaquits?

    Best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Hi Frank, i live in Lima- Peru, a baby bananaquit and a hummingbird recorder in my backyard http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIUYcD-TPJU

  6. avatar

    Hi Alicia<

    Wonderful! Thanks so much..if you don;t mind, I';ll post on a few bird interest sites that I'm in touch with. Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    Very nice, Alicia, thanks. Just getting through a hurricane and now snow here in NY, so very jealous! Best, Frank

  8. avatar

    Hi frank,

    I found a baby bananaquit yesterday and went online to check what to feed it but it says to take it to a bird sanctuary. Now I live on Aruba (an Island in the Caribbean) and we don’t have a bird sanctuary here so I can’t follow that instruction. Usually when I find baby chickens or injured birds I feed them cornmeal mixed with water, milk, water, bread and worms and other insects (if I find any) but I’ve never fed a baby bananaquit before so I googled how to feed baby birds and It read that it’s bad to feed baby birds milk, water and bread.
    This baby has some feathers on it’s wings already. My question to you is if you know what I can feed it to make it strong and not die?

  9. avatar

    Hello Denize,

    Nice to hear of your concern…after this harsh NY winter, Aruba sounds like a good place to be!

    Unfortunately this is not an easy bird to rear; I’ve provided some info below. But first try contacting Animal Rights Aruba..the group may have information or contacts that will be helpful.

    You might also try contacting a veterinarian…staff may have some experience, or perhaps may know of a person who rehabilitates birds..try also searching for local parrot clubs, cage bird clubs etc…members may have some useful contacts.

    I’ve fed the young of similar species with a mixture of honey, a bit of fruit juice or nectar, finely crushed sweet fruits (banana, papaya, orange, etc), soaked kitten chow and hard boiled egg. Mix together well to form a small moist lump of food, and place in mouth when it opens..best not to push down too far , as it’s easy to block the trachea. Unfortunately, hatchlings that are found often have internal injuries of infections due to the weakened immune system, and many expire.

    please keep me posted, good luck, frank

  10. avatar

    Hey frank, just giving you an update on the bird. Calvin Jr (his name) is still alive and well. My sister has been taking care of him and giving him love. He’s slowly flying long distances (inside my house) and just last week he took his first bath. When I upload it I’ll send you the link. We tried to release him but he didn’t want to go yet. Our plans for now is to slowly introduce him to the outside world. (My cats tried to attack it ones). Hopefully he’ll have the courage to fly off soon. ^_^ Thanks for your advices.

  11. avatar

    Hello Denize,

    Thanks for the update – happy to hear that all is going well. Good luck and enjoy, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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