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The bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is a species of passerine bird of uncertain relation. It is tentatively placed in the tanager family, but classified as incertae sedis by other authorities such as the American Ornithologists' Union. Its classification is debated, and it is often placed in its own family: Coerebidae. It has recently been suggested the bananaquit should be split into three species, but this has yet to receive widespread recognition. This small, active nectarivore is found in warmer parts of the Americas, and is generally common.
The bananaquit was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Certhia flaveola. It was reclassified as the only member of the genus Coereba by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1809. Prior to 2005, the bananaquit was assigned to the monotypic family Coerebidae; there is currently no agreement to which family it belongs; some authors place it into the Emberizidae. Since recent studies have shed some light on the bananaquit's affinities, many authorities consider Coerebidae an obsolete taxon. The Coerebidae used to contain other nectar-eating birds from the tropical Americas, but these have since been moved. The bananaquit is part of a group that includes Darwin's finches, Tiaris (grassquits), Loxigilla, etc.—most of which were previously placed in Emberizidae, but are now known to actually be part of the Thraupidae. As such this species is tentatively placed in the Thraupidae family unless a study suggests more accurate placement. Nevertheless, its precise relations remain unresolved, so the American Ornithologists' Union classes it as a species incertae sedis.
It is still unclear if any of the island subspecies should be elevated to species, but phylogenetic studies have revealed three clades: the nominate group from Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Cayman Islands, the bahamensis group from the Bahamas and Quintana Roo, and the bartholemica group from South and Central America, Mexico (except Quintana Roo), the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico. Several taxa were not sampled, but most of these are easily placed in the above groups based on zoogeography alone. Exceptions are oblita (San Andrés Island) and tricolor (Providencia Island), and their placement is therefore uncertain. In February 2010, the International Ornithological Congress listed bahamensis and bartholemica as proposed splits from C. flaveola.
There are 41 currently recognized subspecies:
- C. f. bahamensis – (Reichenbach, 1853): Bahamas
- C. f. caboti – (Baird, 1873): east Yucatan Peninsula and nearby islands
- C. f. flaveola – (Linnaeus, 1758): nominate, Jamaica
- C. f. sharpei – (Cory, 1886): Cayman Is.
- C. f. bananivora – (Gmelin, 1789): Hispaniola and nearby islands
- C. f. nectarea – Wetmore, 1929: Tortue I.
- C. f. portoricensis – (Bryant, 1866): Puerto Rico
- C. f. sanctithomae – (Sundevall, 1869): north Virgin Is.
- C. f. newtoni – (Baird, 1873): St. Croix (south Virgin Is.)
- C. f. bartholemica – (Sparrman, 1788): north and central Lesser Antilles
- C. f. martinicana – (Reichenbach, 1853): Martinique and St. Lucia (south central Lesser Antilles)
- C. f. barbadensis – (Baird, 1873): Barbados
- C. f. atrata – (Lawrence, 1878): St. Vincent (south Lesser Antilles)
- C. f. aterrima – (Lesson, 1830): Grenada and the Grenadines (south Lesser Antilles)
- C. f. uropygialis – von Berlepsch, 1892: Aruba and Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles)
- C. f. tricolor – (Ridgway, 1884): Providencia I. (off east Nicaragua)
- C. f. oblita – Griscom, 1923: San Andrés I. (off east Nicaragua)
- C. f. mexicana – (Sclater, 1857): southeastern Mexico to western Panama
- C. f. cerinoclunis – Bangs, 1901: Pearl Is. (south of Panama)
- C. f. columbiana – (Cabanis, 1866): eastern Panama to southwestern Colombia and southern Venezuela
- C. f. bonairensis – Voous, 1955: Bonaire I. (Netherlands Antilles)
- C. f. melanornis – Phelps & Phelps, 1954: Cayo Sal I. (off Venezuela)
- C. f. lowii – Cory, 1909: Los Roques Is. (off Venezuela)
- C. f. ferryi – Cory, 1909: La Tortuga I. (off Venezuela)
- C. f. frailensis – Phelps & Phelps, 1946: Los Frailes and Los Hermanos Is. (off Venezuela)
- C. f. laurae – Lowe, 1908: Los Testigos (off Venezuela)
- C. f. luteola – (Cabanis, 1850): coastal northern Colombia and Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago
- C. f. obscura – Cory, 1913: northeastern Colombia and western Venezuela
- C. f. minima – (Bonaparte, 1854): eastern Colombia and southern Venezuela to French Guiana and north central Brazil
- C. f. montana – Lowe, 1912: Andes of northwestern Venezuela
- C. f. caucae – Chapman, 1914: western Colombia
- C. f. gorgonae – Thayer & Bangs, 1905: Gorgona I. (off western Colombia)
- C. f. intermedia – (Salvadori & Festa, 1899): southwestern Colombia, western Ecuador and northern Peru east to southern Venezuela and western Brazil
- C. f. bolivari – Zimmer & Phelps, 1946: eastern Venezuela
- C. f. guianensis – (Cabanis, 1850): southeastern Venezuela to Guyana
- C. f. roraimae – Chapman, 1929: tepui regions of southeastern Venezuela, southwestern Guyana and northern Brazil
- C. f. pacifica – Lowe, 1912: eastern Peru
- C. f. magnirostris – (Taczanowski, 1880): northern Peru
- C. f. dispar – Zimmer, 1942: north central Peru to western Bolivia
- C. f. chloropyga – (Cabanis, 1850): east central Peru to central Bolivia and east to eastern Brazil, nortehrn Uruguay, northeastern Argentina and Paraguay
- C. f. alleni – Lowe, 1912: eastern Bolivia to central Brazil
The bananaquit is a small bird, although there is some degree of size variation across the various subspecies. Length can range from 4 to 5 in (10 to 13 cm). Weight ranges from 5.5 to 19 g (0.19 to 0.67 oz).
Most subspecies of the bananaquit have dark grey (almost black) upperparts, black crown and sides of the head, a prominent white eyestripe, grey throat, white vent, and yellow chest, belly and rump.
The sexes are alike, but juveniles are duller and often have a partially yellow eyebrow and throat.
In the subspecies bahamensis and caboti from the Bahamas and Cozumel, respectively, the throat and upper chest are white or very pale grey, while ferryi from La Tortuga Island has a white forehead. The subspecies laurae, lowii and melanornis from small islands off northern Venezuela are overall blackish, while the subspecies aterrima and atrata from Grenada and Saint Vincent have two plumage morphs, one "normal" and another blackish. The pink gape is usually very prominent in the subspecies from islands in the Caribbean Sea.
The bananaquit has a slender, curved bill, adapted to taking nectar from flowers. It sometimes pierces flowers from the side, taking the nectar without pollinating the plant. It also feeds on sweet juices by puncturing fruit with its beak, and will eat small insects on occasion. While feeding, the bananaquit must always perch as it cannot hover like a hummingbird.
The bananaquit is known for its ability to adjust remarkably to human environments. It often visits gardens and may become very tame. Its nickname, the sugar bird, comes from its affinity for bowls or bird feeders stocked with granular sugar, a common method of attracting these birds. The bananaquit builds a spherical lined nest with a side entrance hole, laying up to three eggs, which are incubated solely by the female. It may also build its nest in man-made objects, such as lampshades and garden trellises. The birds breed all year regardless of season and build new nests throughout the year.
It is resident in tropical South America north to southern Mexico and the Caribbean. It is found throughout the West Indies, except Cuba. Birds from the Bahamas are rare visitors to Florida. It is particularly prevalent on Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao and also the most popular species of bird on the islands.
It occurs in a wide range of open to semi-open habitats, including gardens and parks, but it is rare or absent in deserts, dense forests (e.g. large parts of the Amazon rainforest) and at altitudes above 2,000 m (6,600 ft).
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