Coereba flaveolabananaquit

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Geographic Range

Coereba flaveola (bananaquit) is common mainly in South America. It is most often found within the range from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and largely eastward throughout South America. It occupies most of the Caribbean Islands and on rare occasions is found in Florida (Merola-Zwartjes 1998).

Habitat

The bananaquit covers a range of habitats within its geographical area. The birds are most commonly found at low elevations and rarely in the high mountainous forests. They are present in open fields, areas of cover, the dense, humid rain forests, and even in certain desert areas. Observers have spotted the bananaquit at a variety of elevations, ranging from sea level up to 4000 ft, but is most commonly seen in the lowlands (usually below 760 ft). Although, C. flaveola is present in many habitats, it is most common in the tropical region in areas with some cover (Allen 1961; Wunderle 1984).

Physical Description

The tiny adult bananaquit ranges from about 10.5 to 11.5 cm in length. It has a dark, slender, curved beak. Although its plumage varies slightly across its geographic range, the adult plumage is nearly sexually monomorphic. In the male, the feathers on the above side are dark gray, while its crown is more black and the underside/rump is bright yellow. A long, prominent, white eyebrow (supercilium) sits directly above the eye and many times a white spot (speculum) occurs on its generally black wings. The throat is a lighter shade of gray than the back and in certain races the tail-feathers are tipped white. The female bananaquit is very similar, except that her crown is narrowly darker, her throat whitish as opposed to gray, and her rump is more of an olive-yellow shade. The young bananaquit has feathers that are far more dull than its parents' and appear more olive-yellow over its entire body. Certain races of the bananaquit tend to be entirely black, while others lack certain colors or definition in their plumage (Allen 1961; Ridgely and Tudor 1989; Fjeldsa and Krabbe 1990).

Reproduction

Reproduction varies slightly among the subspecies of C. flaveola. Typically, though, the bananaquit will raise several broods within a year and generally the breeding season lasts for five months. In certain areas the bananaquit breeds at the end of the dry season (March through early August). Breeding is also often synchronized with the first rains early in the wet season. Other times, though, breeding does not show any relationship to the seasonal weather patterns.

Bananaquit broods may contain from one to three eggs. The eggs themselves are a white-cream color (sometimes pinkish) with brown/salmon spots that vary in distribution (Allen 1961; Wunderle 1984).

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The bananaquit, a fast-paced, seemingly nervous bird, is not colonial. It tends to be solitary and nomadic. It does not show any evidence of claiming individual territories. Males court females, for the most part, without acting at all defensively towards other males, which characterizes polyterritorism.

The bird, in areas where it is most common, may become very tame around human settlements. Natives of South America find, from time to time, the bananaquit on their kitchen table looking for sugar. Its song is characterized as "insect-like," twittering, and shrill.

Both the male and female bananaquit build their own globe-shaped nests using leaves, grasses, and plant fibers. The distinctive nests have a side entrance hole and are lined with bits of smaller matter (thread, paper, feathers, spider webbing, etc.).

Nesting generally goes on throughout the year, each sex defending a small area surrounding its own roosting nest. Prior to breeding the male spends his time singing around his own nest and also in the area surrounding a female's nest to attract her as a mate. There is evidence that the breeding pairs partake in some form of courtship ritual, which often includes facing each other, bowing, turning heads, scraping, and flying in a number of directions.

Before a female lays her eggs, the male remains very close (within 2 m) to his mate. He is very protective as they feed and gather materials for a brooding nest (different from her roosting nest). Once the eggs have been laid and incubation has begun the male becomes far less attentive. He goes back to singing in the vicinity of his own nest and courting other females.

At one time the bananaquit was thought to be monogamous, however now mate switching is recognized as a common practice.

Although the males never assist in incubating and most of the feeding and other care is done by the female, some males will help in feeding and protection. Females, though, play the major role in protecting the broods from other male and female bananaquits, as well as other nest predators (including ants, rats, and snakes). (Allen, 1961; Ridgely and Tudor, 1989; Wunderle, 1984)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Coereba flaveola, often compared to hummingbirds, takes flower nectar as its primary source of food. Although it does use its sharp beak to pierce flowers from the side to feed, much like some hummingbirds, the bananaquit cannot hover like a hummingbird. For this reason the bird must always perch while feeding and many times hangs upside down from a branch instead of sitting upright. In addition to nectar, it eats a number of other food items that include fruits, insects, and other small arthropods. The bananaquit enjoys many kinds of fruit, including ripe bananas. It may also pick small insects from the undersides of leaves and eats flies, beetles, caterpillars, ants, bees, and spiders (Allen 1961; Skutch and Stiles 1989).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Coereba flaveola does not benefit humans in many ways. Recent studies have shown that bananaquits, in addition to hummingbirds, pollinate at least three species of Bromelioideae (a subfamily of bromeliad plants).

Peurto Rico has adopted the bananaquit as its national bird, and many Caribbean and South American countries have featured the bird on their postage stamps (Sazima and Sazima 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Bananaquits often get to flower nectar through the side of the flower. It pierces the flower and retrieves the nectar for its own benefit. This means that the flower is either left unpollinated or will die (Skutch and Stiles 1989).

Conservation Status

Coereba flaveola does not appear to be endangered in any way across its geographic range. It is a rather abundant species in the areas in which it occurs.

Other Comments

As bananaquits cover a wide geographic range made up largely of islands, there are a number of subspecies. In the Caribbean region the species has a "highly variable phenotype." This long chain of islands could only have been populated through a process of over-water dispersal. Each island has ended up with its own subspecies of bananaquit. Two main groups are recognized. The Bahamian group includes the Bahamas (C.f. bahamensis), Cayman Islands (C. f. sharpei), coastal islands off of Yucatan (C. f. caboti), and a few others. The Antillean group includes Puerto Rico (C. f. portoricensis), St. Croix (C. f. newtoni), Barbados (C. f. barbadensis), and a few others. The subspecies vary mostly in plumage.

Interestingly, the highly successful bananaquit inhabits basically every island in the Caribbean except for Cuba.

Biologists place C. flaveola in its own group between the warbler and tanager groups (Allen 1961; Morse 1989; Seutin and Gilles 1994).

Contributors

Erin Hayden (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Allen, R. 1961. Birds of the Caribbean. New York: The Viking Press.

Fjeldsa, J., N. Krabba. 1990. Birds of the High Andes. Svendborg, Denmark: Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, and Apollo Books.

Merola-Zwartjes, M. July 1998. Metabolic rates, temperature regulation, and the energetic implications of roost nests in the Bahamas (*Coereba flaveola*). Auk, 115(3): 432-433.

Morse, D. 1989. American Warblers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Ridgely, R., G. Tudor. 1989. The birds of South America: the oscine passerines (Vol 1). Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Sazima, M., I. Sazima. January 1999. The perching bird of *Coereba flaveola* as a co-pollinator of bromeliad flowers in southeastern Brazil. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 77(1): 45-51.

Seutin, , Gilles. August 1994. Historical Biogeography of the Bananaquit in the Caribbean Region: A Mitochondrial DNA Assessment. Evolution, 48(4): 1043.

Stiles, F., A. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press.

Wunderle, J. 1984. Mate switching and a seasonal increase in polygyny in the bananaquit. Behaviour, 88(1-2): 123-144.