Photo Credit: Geoff Hill
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Icteria virens
OTHER NAMES: Paruline polyglotte (French) Reinita Grande (Spanish)
STATUS: Breeder. Common in spring, summer, and fall, and occasional in winter in all regions. Low Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: The yellow-breasted chat is considered to be the largest atypical member of the wood warbler family Paruline. However, recent genetic findings question its long standing membership in this family. This chat reaches a length up to 7.5 inches and a wingspan of 9.75 inches and weighs from ¾ to 1 ounce.
The brilliant yellow colored breast and throat is the yellow-breasted chat’s most distinctive calling card and hence its name sake. The upper parts including the tail are an olive-green color. The chat’s bright white belly and undertail contrast handsomely with its yellow breast and throat.
Eyes are brown with white crescents above and below eye. The bill and feet are black. Sexes are similar except the male has jet black lores (the space between the eye and the bill) that are more pronounced than in the females. The female has gray lores during the breeding season. Neither sex has wing bars or tail patches.
The chat likes to sing perched from exposed locations. Its song is a combination of caws/whistles, grunts and rattles. Once you have heard a yellow-breasted chat there will be no confusing its song with other birds. However, do not be fooled for this bird will sometimes mimic other bird songs, much like that of the mocking bird family.
The yellow-breasted chat can be easily identified by its distinctive flight pattern. The chat’s flight will exhibit slow beating wings with dangling legs and loud singing as it flits over and around shrubby vegetation.
DISTRIBUTION: The yellow-breasted chat is a neotropical migrant breeding throughout much of the United States and southern Canada. The chat winters in Mexico and Central America and coastal areas of the United States.
HABITAT: man-made and natural open habitats composed of dense brushy thickets and fruit bearing perennials and shrubs.
FEEDING HABITS: Diet consists of insects especially during the breeding season, but seasonal fruits and berries also make up a good portion of its diet. The chat has been observed to hold food items with its foot while eating which is not observed in other warblers.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: The yellow-breasted chat nests in dense shrubby areas and thicket tangles. The male sings loudly during courtship from a visible perch and performs a mating display consisting of hovering flights and loud singing. The female constructs an open cup shaped nest from grasses, weed stems, and bark. She will lay 3 to 5 creamed color reddish brown speckled eggs in the nest which has been lined with fine grasses.
Incubation takes around twelve days and young are borne naked and helpless. Under close care of the adults, the young fledge within less than two weeks. This species may nest in colonies but generally tend to be monogamous. Two broods are normally reared annually when good nesting habitat conditions abound.
Terres, J.T. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Page 982. A. Knopf, New York, New York, USA
AUTHOR: Rick Claybrook, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries