Three clades, “bahamensis group” (Quintana Roo region of SE Mexico, and Bahamas), “flaveola group” (Cayman Is, Jamaica and Hispaniola), and “bartholemica group” (Puerto Rico, Lesser Antilles, Mexico except Quintana Roo, and Central and South America), revealed by genetic work#R; placement of SW Caribbean island races oblita (San Andrés) and tricolor (Providencia) remains uncertain. Remarkable geographical variation, especially in Caribbean islands. Number of races probably subject to revision, some races (or groups of races) perhaps worthy of species status and others poorly separated genetically; for example, roraimae could be subsumed into guianensis and alleni in chloropyga. Forty-one subspecies currently recognized.
10–11 cm; 6·4–14·2 g. Distinctive for its bill shape, which is short, sharply pointed and decurved. Generally dark grey to dusky olive above, much brighter on rump, with prominent pale supercilium, white patch at base of flight feathers; throat greyish, underparts bright yellow. Sexes more or less alike. Immature is similar to adult, but paler and dingier, with supercilium dull, often yellowish, or with anterior portion yellow and posterior portion white; immatures of sooty races are similar to adults, but duller and browner. Remarkable range of geographical variation; details presented below for each of the three major clades. Clade 1 (Bahamas, Cozumel Is: “bahamensis group”). Race bahamensis has crown dark grey, rest of upperparts plain grey, long white supercilium and small white spot at base of primaries, bill black with red gape, entire side of head, throat, and chest white, broad yellow band across mid-breast, with lower breast to undertail-coverts white; caboti is similar to previous, but slightly larger, blacker above, with bill broader at base and slightly less curved. Clade 2 (Jamaica, Hispaniola, Grand Cayman Is: “flaveola group”). Nominate race has deep black upperparts with white supercilium, large and prominent white spot at base of primaries, small dull yellow rump patch, slaty-black throat, and dark wax-yellow underparts; bananivora differs from nominate in being slightly lighter in colour overall, with back blackish-slate (not deep black), throat dark grey (less slaty), underparts not so deep yellow, and white wing spot smaller; nectarea reported as very similar to previous, but throat and foreneck slightly darker grey; sharpei most closely resembles caboti (of clade 1, above), from which it differs in having larger bill, smaller and duller yellow rump, smoke-grey (not pale grey) throat and chest, larger white tail tips, and lores and ear-coverts with black more restricted. Two subspecies, tricolor and oblita are perhaps most similar in appearance to sharpei, but both have pale grey of throat spreading well down onto chest (as in caboti and bahamensis) and their true taxonomic placement remains uncertain; tricolor has throat and chest (not just throat) smoke-grey, and also differs from sharpei in shorter bill and brighter yellow rump; oblita is extremely similar to tricolor, but with grey area of throat and chest slightly darker and even more extensive, spreading to upper breast, also yellow of breast paler, more greenish-yellow, flanks slightly more greyish-olive, and bill shorter. Clade 3 (Central America [except Cozumel], rest of Caribbean, and South America: “bartholemica group”). Race columbiana has crown and side of head black with long white supercilium, back and wings olive-tinged slate-grey, bright yellow rump, small white spot at base of primaries, white tail tips, throat grey, underparts yellow, white undertail-coverts lightly tinged cream; mexicana differs from previous in having rump patch duller, more greenish-yellow and smaller, and back not so dark grey; cerinoclunis differs little from columbiana, but upperparts black (little contrast with head), instead of deep mouse-grey to dark greyish-olive, also paler grey throat, darker yellow below, smaller white wing spot, and smaller white tail tips; luteola is nearest guianensis, but blackish above with conspicuous wing spot, differs from columbiana in entire upperparts blackish (no olive tinge), rump brighter, and lower underparts white; montana is nearest columbiana, but upperparts darker, fuscous black (instead of deep mouse-grey to dark greyish-olive), yellow of rump brighter, throat darker grey (more like luteola) and bill longer and stronger (montana is intermediate between luteola and columbiana); obscura differs in having lower underparts creamy, back, wing-coverts and flight-feathers paler, more dusky; bolivari differs in having back and wings distinctly greyish and rump whitish; minima is nearest chloropyga, but slightly darker above, rump brighter (differs from columbiana in slightly smaller size, back slate-grey); guianensis differs in having back and wings paler, more brownish-black (not olive), wing spot vestigial or absent, and no white tail tips; roraimae is extremely similar to last, but slightly larger, back a little darker and contrasting less with crown, and throat perhaps darker; caucae is much like columbiana, but supercilium much narrower and somewhat variegated with dusky edges. Several more S races are much paler, mainly greyish, including intermedia, which is exceedingly similar to columbiana, but underparts brighter yellow (near wax-yellow), upperparts on average slightly darker, rump generally richer yellow; intermedia differs from chloropyga mainly in conspicuous white wing spot, darker back and darker throat; pacifica is very like previous, but has shorter bill, back less sooty, throat paler grey (in colour nearly identical to magnirostris, but with much shorter bill and smaller size); magnirostris differs in large size, notably long tail and unusually long bill; dispar and chloropyga resemble pacifica/intermedia, but slighter larger and essentially lack white wing spot (chloropyga quite greyish above and pale yellow below, with pale sandy-buff tinge on flanks); gorgonae is nearest intermedia, but side of throat and malar area finely barred dusky, back sooty, and white wing spot and tail tips very small; alleni is doubtfully ly indistinguishable from chloropyga, although may average slightly paler. More different still are several Caribbean races somewhat like columbiana: portoricensis, which differs in darker grey throat and red gape (additionally, is generally similar to bananivora, but differs in black upperparts, clearer slate-grey throat, and much larger, longer, white tail tips); bonairensis has red gape, wider white supercilium rearwards, white (not yellow) throat, back olive-brown, wing-coverts with two white wingbars, flight-feathers extensively edged white, rump pale yellow (not bright yellow); ferryi is nearest luteola, but has forehead with varying amount of white, pale greyish edging on flight-feathers, sometimes extreme base of gape red; uropygialis is close to preceding race (and has pale grey wing edgings), but differs in black chin and side of throat, rest of throat white (not grey), also no white wing spot, upperparts less sooty, rump patch reduced and more greenish-yellow, and well-developed red gape; frailensis has large white wing spot, and grey flanks and thighs; martinicana differs in having long bill with red gape, broad white supercilium, black side of head, side of throat and chin, with central throat whitish, little or no white wing spot and no white tail tips (in general closest to uropygialis, and throat similar, but differs in blacker upperparts, much shorter supercilium, and duller yellow underparts with olive-tinged sides); barbadensis is much like martinicana, differing mainly in having smaller amount of white on throat; bartholemica is much like previous two races (including no white wing spot), but differs most obviously in having uniformly slate-coloured throat; newtoni resembles portoricensis and sanctithomae, but has much darker slaty throat, and duller, more olive-yellow, rump; sanctithomae is very similar to portoricensis, but underparts brighter, cleaner yellow and flanks paler. A few S Caribbean races found on small islands are mainly black or dark olive, and utterly unlike any of the above races: laurae is similar in size and colour to atrata, but differs in lacking red gape and also in decidedly stronger, longer and less decurved bill; melanornis is all black like laurae, but smaller and with much shorter bill; lowii is similar in size to melanornis, but with red gape and olive-tinged lower underparts; aterrima is nearest lowii, mainly sooty black but with slight greenish-yellow wash on uppertail-coverts and breast and lower underparts (it also has a light morph, similar to luteola but with blacker upperparts and duller underparts, dark morph predominates in Grenada, light morph in Grenadines); atrata is exceedingly close to aterrima, but differs in larger size and longer, heavier bill.
ssp bahamensis Bahama Bananaquit
ssp flaveola Greater Antillean Bananaquit
ssp bartholemica Common Bananaquit
Gives weak little “tsit” notes when foraging. A persistent singer, songs typically short, high-pitched series of unmusical buzzes, “chip” notes and insect-like hisses. There are hundreds of regional dialects and much individual variation within regions, which can make recognition of this species’ songs difficult. Because of this extreme regional variation, songs are easily confused with those of hummingbirds (Trochilidae), Conirostrum species, dacnises and others, and even with insect sounds.
Occurs in almost any shrubby or semi-open area or forest border in fairly dry to humid regions; in general most numerous in gardens, disturbed or shrubby areas, light woodland and mangroves, least numerous or absent locally in arid scrub, and generally scarce or absent in areas of extensive humid forest. Abundant in gardens and areas with flowers on many Caribbean islands and locally inside humid forest on Caribbean islands, also in dry (but not arid) to moderately humid areas across Caribbean region of N South America; fairly common in arid upper Marañón Valley in Peru, but largely or entirely absent from W Amazonia, including S Colombia, E Ecuador, NE Peru and much of W Brazil. Generally more common and widespread in lowlands, but also found locally in Andes to c. 2000 m; regularly to 2600 m near Bogotá, in Colombia (columbiana), 1200–1900 m or higher in Mérida and Táchira, in Venezuela (montana), at 1000–2400 m in upper Marañón Valley, in N Peru (magnirostris), and up to 2400 m farther S in Andes of Peru and Bolivia (chloropyga).
Food and feeding
Feeds primarily on nectar; also takes some small fruits and berries and a few insects. Feeds many insects to young. Forages alone or in loosely associated pairs; may join mixed-species flocks, but much more often alone. Takes nectar at almost any height, from below eye level up to canopy of tall trees, by probing into flowers or by piercing, from the outside, the base of tubular flower corollas. Notably active, restless, and nervous-acting when foraging; hops rapidly, probes with high-speed movements for nectar, then quickly moves on. Much attracted to hummingbird feeders or bowls of sugar, and in many parts of Caribbean and N South America it may become very bold and tame, entering porches and open dining areas to take sugar from tables even while guests are seated.
In Caribbean region breeding cyclical, closely correlated with onset of rains, mainly Mar–Jun, occasionally in other months; in Costa Rica reported throughout year, with peak in Jul–Sept (may vary with flowering in Caribbean lowlands); breeding records scattered throughout year in Colombia, and reported Sept–Oct in Bolivia (La Paz); may regularly produce two or more broods in some areas, e.g. on Barro Colorado (Panama) one pair attempted three broods (two successful) between Jan and Jun. Globular nest, circular entrance hole on lower side and facing slightly downward, made from grass and a wide variety of plant fibre, placed mostly 1·5–4 m up, less often to 15 m; nests sometimes reused. In all areas also builds dormitory nests (resemble sleeping nests), and breeding nests also used as dormitories when female not breeding. Clutch 2–4 eggs, dull white with brown flecks and dots; incubation by female alone, period 12–13 days; chicks fed by male and female, nestling period 17–19 days; fledged juveniles do not return to nest to sleep, but may build own dormitory nest (or use abandoned nest of other species) before acquiring adult plumage.
Generally resident. In most areas sedentary and territorial throughout year, but in dry areas local population shifts in response to flower abundance. Bahamas race (bahamensis) recorded as a vagrant in Cuba, mainly on offshore islets. Rare visitor to S Florida (USA).
Status and conservation
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Varies from being uncommon, as in heavily forested areas, to being abundant, as on many Caribbean islands and also locally in gardens and parks in Venezuela and Colombia. Occurs in many protected areas, but generally more numerous in settled areas where there are gardens or hedgerows with flowers. Has profited greatly from human disturbance, primarily because of its ability to use a wide variety of nectar resources, including those of many non-native species. Also, on some Caribbean islands, e.g. Trinidad and Tobago, and locally in N South America, is attracted to fruit and hummingbird feeders and readily comes to sugar bowls, where it can become extremely numerous.
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