In the lowlands, the Bananaquit is most common in semi-open to shrubby areas; at middle elevations it searches for flowers in the canopy and edges of moist to wet forests. This bird also forges in areas used by humans, such as clearings, plantations, gardens, and parks.
The Bananaquit lives on the mainland from southern Mexico to Argentina, and on most islands of the West Indies except Cuba. It lives in most regions of Costa Rica except those with tropical dry forest (such as Santa Rosa) and those at higher elevations. On the Caribbean slope it is common through lowland and middle elevations; on the Pacific side it may be found in southern lowlands and middle elevations.
La Selva, Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Wilson Botanical Garden (San Vito).
This small, adaptive bird is widespread and conspicuous in its habitat, both noisy and common. Its song, a series of high-pitched squeaks, can be heard all year as it travels between flowers searching for nectar. With geographic variation along its range, this species contains 35 subspecies, differing according to variations in song and plumage.
In Costa Rica, the Bananaquit's back is dark gray, as are the wings which also have a white spot. The bird's underside is a distinct, bright yellow; it also has a grey throat and a black cap and eye mask with a white stripe above the eye. The female's and juvenile's colors are less bright than the male's. The Bananaquit's thin beak is sharp, black, and curved, quite useful for reaching nectar.
The Bananaquit drinks nectar from many plants, particularly the flowers of large trees. It may also come to garden plants, and may become tame after spending considerable time around houses. As a nectar feeder, it acts as a pollinator on small flowers, but with large flowers it reaches the nectar by hanging from the stem and piercing the flower base with its sharp beak; in doing this, the Bananaquit is committing "nectar robbery,' as it evades exchanging pollination for its meal. This bird may also suck the pulp from fruit or swallow small bits, and catch insects for food.
The breeding of this species is coordinated with the most productive flowering periods, and a female will lay several clutches each year. Breeding begins with courtship rituals of bowing and bobbing and displaying the yellow tail feathers. Once confirmed, the mating pair weaves a nest of grass, narrow leaves, and twigs for their 2 pale eggs. After the breeding season, the adults sleep in separate nests again.
Some of the large trees that the Bananaquit favors for nectar include Erythrina and Symphonia. It also frequents Hibiscus and Allamanda, and acts as a pollinator for Stachytarpheta. Bananaquits may try vines or garden plants for nectar as well. They eat fruit pulp or small pieces, particularly of banana. They will also catch spiders, beetles, wasps, caterpillars, and butterflies. Sometimes the Bananquit eats protein bodies secreted by Cecropia trees (these are called "Müllerian bodies').
Adult bananaquits are 9 cm long; males weigh 10 g and females weigh 9 g.
Henderson, Carrol L. Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2002.
Leck, C. F. in: Janzen, Daniel H. Costa Rican Natural History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Stiles, F. G. in: Janzen, Daniel H. Costa Rican Natural History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.