BANANAQUITS: AHEAD OF THE CURVE?


Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco)

BANANAQUITS: AHEAD OF THE CURVE?

Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are small, colourful, and delightful birds of the coppice and garden. Besides their obvious attractiveness, the birds have in recent years enjoyed an uniquity: the status of being the sole species in the family Coerebidae.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

However this singular status has really been a kind of avian parking place due to past, present (and doubtless future) uncertainty of the right category for these birds. Like so many avian species these days, they are subject to the rigours and vagaries of continual reclassification by the ornithological powers-that-be.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

Bananaquits are, broadly speaking, passerines – essentially birds that perch. The nominal ‘passer’ was specifically awarded to sparrows by BRISSON, a contemporary of Linnaeus. Recently, bananaquits have suffered mysterious migrations of their classification ranging from the generalised ‘passerine‘ to the vague incertae sedis (=uncertain group‘) to uncomfortable inclusion with tanagers / emberizids. 

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

The debate over the appropriate classification for this pretty little bird (of which there are many subspecies in the broad Caribbean region) – rumbles on. A new way to confuse the issue is the suggestion that the bananaquit should be split into 3 species. In some areas, I believe this has happened at least informally.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Elsewhere there are doubters, sceptics, and champions of other group inclusions. The most obvious beneficiaries of all this will be dedicated birders, who may end up with two extra species to add to their ‘Lifer’ lists. Personally I’d like to think that the birds themselves will stay ahead of the curve in their own category, maintaining the mystery of their precise status while humans argue about what to call them. 

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

CREDITS: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1); Gerlinde Taurer (2); Craig Nash (3, 7); Tom Sheley (4, 5); Erik Gauger (6). All birds photographed on Abaco, Bahamas

Bananaquit perched on yellow elder, the National flower of the BahamasBananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

 

BANANAQUIT BABIES ON ABACO: AWWWWWW…SOME BIRDS


Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 4

BANANAQUIT BABIES ON ABACO: AWWWWWW…SOME BIRDS

I’m not generally into whimsy and such stuff BUT… I can’t get enough of small bananaquits (Coereba flaveola). I’ve featured them before HERE and HERE AGAIN, but then I see another one, take some photos, and awwwwww – look at its little fluffy feathers… and its tiny sharp claws! The two shown below are summer babies. They aren’t really babies, though, are they? Teenagers, more like. Like many Abaco birds – especially the parrots – they are keen on the fruit of the Gumbo Limbo tree Bursera simaruba shown here. They also love flowers, piecing the base with their beaks to get at the nectar. They are quite as happy on a feeder – or indeed sipping sugar water from a hummingbird feeder, living up to their nickname ‘sugar bird’. 

Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 1Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 7“Watching you watching me…”Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 3

This second bird is a bit older, and has developed some smart citrus lemon shoulder flashes. Bananaquits have many regional variations throughout the caribbean and beyond. These birds are, or were, generally lumped in with the tanager species. They have an official classification of ‘uncertain placement’ in the taxonomic scheme for now, while their exact status is debated. Not that anyone watching them worries about that sort of technicality.Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 5

Here is what a Bahamas bananaquit sounds like, recorded on Andros (Credit: Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto)

A pair of adult bananaquits

A JUVENILE BANANAQUIT ON ABACO – HOW CUTE CAN A SMALL BIRD BE?


BANANAQUITS Coereba flaveola

These small birds are a favourite of mine. They flicker around, cheeping cheerfully, yet are often quite hard to see in the coppice even if you think you are looking exactly where the sound is coming from.

Bananaquits are passerines, with an uncertain species designation. Over the years they have been officially reclassified three times. Some include them loosely with tanagers; others put them in their own family group; others argue that there are 3 distinct species. Basically, there is no universal consensus. There is some satisfaction, in a vastly over-classified world, in one small bird resisting man’s pigeon-holing (so to speak). It’s a tiny taxonomic enigma.

Among the islands of the West Indies there are several subspecies of bananaquit, with marked variations of appearance and size too tedious to relate. The best news is that “…the Bahamas Bananaquit with a whitish throat and upper chest may be a separate species…”.

The Bananaquit’s slender, curved bill is designed for taking nectar from flowers. It can pierce flowers from the side to reach the nectar, or use its bill to puncture fruit. It also eats small insects. The birds are tame, and love feeders, especially hummingbird feeders filled with sugar-water – hence their nickname “sugar bird”. They breed all year round. This is the characteristic chirrup of the Bahamas Bananaquit (credit: Xeno-Canto)

This small juvenile was happily feeding by itself near the Delphi Club, Abaco. Its mother then flew onto a nearby branch, and I’m afraid to say that the child indulged in a shameful charade of “Hungry! Feed Me! Now!”