A bananaquit is a bird, a little bird about the size of a song sparrow. It’s a bird of the Carribean Islands, except Cuba, and southern Mexico and Central and South America. A bananaquit have been seen occasionally in the United States, but only in southern Florida.
I’ve been to southern Florida. I’ve been to Mexico and to Central America, to Costa Rica. But I’ve never seen a bananaquit.
A friend and his wife saw bananaquits while on vacation to one of the islands of the Caribbean recently. After he returned, the first time I saw my friend after his vacation, he told me about his trip. One of the first things he said about the trip was that he had seen bananaquits and asked if I had ever seen them.
I said I had not. Wherever he and his wife were, I forgot the name of the island, my friend said bananaquits were common, and they were tame and friendly. When he and his wife ate outside bananaquits often flew down and landed on their table. The first time the birds did that, he said, he scattered some sugar on the table and the bananaquits immediately put their heads down and started scoffing up the sugar.
While I’ve never seen a bananaquit I have read about them and looked at pictures. An adult male has a black cap and a broad white line from its bill back over each eye to the back of its head. It has a white throat. It has black on its wings and tail, a yellow patch on its belly and another on its rump. It has more white behind the yellow on its belly.
As with many birds, a female bananaquit is duller colored than a male, dark brown instead of black, but still has the white over its eye and white on the throat. It also has a patch of yellow on its belly.
Bananaquits have been described as looking like sparrows, like finches and even like tanagers. From their size and shape and the yellow on the breast and rump bananaquits look to me like warblers.
A bananaquit looks like a sparrow or a finch or a warbler, except for its bill. A bananaquit’s bill is thinner than the bill any of those other birds and its long though not as long as the bill of a hummingbird. Further, the bill of a bananaquit is thin and decurved, bent down. Its tongue is also long. It uses its bill and tongue to probe flowers, not the blossoms of flowers like hummingbirds but piercing the base of the flowers.
Bananaquits feed on nectar, like hummingbirds. They also eat insects and fruit, including bananas and oranges, using their long sharp bills to extract bits of pulp.
A bananaquit was described in my books as looking like a sparrow or a finch or a warbler. The bananaquit was even described in one of the books I found them listed in as looking like a tanager. They’ve been classified as finches and as tanagers. So what kind of bird is the bananaquit?
All the bird books I have that describe the bananaquit, except one, list it as being in a family by itself. The exception, The Audubon Society Book of North American Birds, assigns the bananaquit to the family of birds called honeycreepers and describes them as “little birds that flit about in trees like warblers.”
So, a bananaquit is in a family of its own or it’s a honeycreeper. But that’s not the only disagreement about the classification of the bananaquit. In one other book I have the author wrote that the bananaquit is not a single species but three.
Another question about this colorful, friendly little bird with the unique bill, why is it called bananaquit? Not one of the bird books I have that list it even gave a clue.
— Neil Case may be reached at email@example.com.