Little yellow scoundrel

This post is also available in: Dutch.

Adult Bananaquit, lively and common

This easily recognizable bird is probably the most common bird on our Island. It has discovered a lot of tricks to make its life easier. One of those has to do with nest construction. It is much easier to attach your nest to some conveniently located lamp on the porch of a human being. Safer. And with building materials readily available, in the form of that cleaning mop clumsily left outside by that stupid human being. Easily dislodged and beautifully soft nest lining, to impress the partner that has finally chosen you. And that partner can be picky, to say the least. If your building efforts are not up to her high standards, she will rip everything apart and you have to start all over again!

The Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is actually quite special, in the sense that the Curacaoan and Aruban race is endemic to these Islands. Its complete name is Coereba flaveola uropygialis. Three scientific names in a row indicate a subspecies, a species adapted to the local circumstances over time. Bonaire has its own Bananaquit to show off with, the Coereba flaveola bonairensis.

These birds feed on a variety of food items, including insects. But nectar is that special treat they invented some criminal behavior for, in order to get at it. A significant number of species of flowering plants have a working relationship with hummingbirds. Their flowers developed into long and deep nectar reservoirs, specially adapted to the long hummingbird beaks. When a hummingbird inserts its beak into such a flower to get at the nectar, the base of its beak gets dusted by pollen. Exactly the intention of the host plant, because this insures pollination after the bird visits another flower. Enter the Bananaquit. Its beak is too short to get to the nectar in the normal way. So it simply steals it by drilling a hole at the base of the flower. Nectar gone, and the flower misses out, pollination-wise. Just a little in their defense: some hummingbirds do this, too, but the Bananaquits have mastered this technique. Even fledglings learn this technique rapidly. Barely out of the nest, they seem to have studied their parents behavior pretty well.

Some people put a bowl of sugar in their gardens, a sweet gift these birds love. This love is even the basis for the Dutch name of this bird: Suikerdiefje (sugar thief). Admittedly, this is an easy way to attract color and avian movement. But a daily supply might turn the birds into sugar addicts, while weakening their health. Flower nectar is a healthy snack they have to work hard for, but sugar is only calories without any essential nutrients. So if you like to offer them a sweet treat, do this in a balanced way, maybe two or three days a week just a little. Don’t turn our Coereba flaveola into diabetics. And obesity is already a problem on the Island!

About Leon Pors

2 Responses to “Little yellow scoundrel”

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  1. Miriam says:

    Is the quality of the sugar of any importance or relvance? I only put semi refined dark coloured sugar cane sugar out, so nothing bleached and refined.

    • Leon Pors says:

      I don’t think less refined sugar will make much of a difference, because it still does not contain much extra in terms of nutrients. But like I said, just a little should do no harm. Marly (see comments in Dutch) suggested to offer them some fruit. A perfect test to check if the common name in English is still valid!