Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Yellow-breasted Chat

Icteria virens

A bizarre series of hoots, whistles, and clucks, coming from the briar tangles, announces the presence of the Yellow-breasted Chat. The bird is often hard to see, but sometimes it launches into the air to sing its odd song as it flies, with floppy wingbeats and dangling legs, above the thickets. This is our largest warbler, and surely the strangest as well, seeming to suggest a cross between a warbler and a Mockingbird.
Conservation status May have increased historically in the East as clearing of forest created more brushy habitat. Current population probably stable, although it has declined in parts of Southwest and elsewhere.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat Brushy tangles, briars, stream thickets. Breeds in very dense scrub (such as willow thickets) and briary tangles, often along streams and at the edges of swamps or ponds. Sometimes in dry overgrown pastures, and upland thickets along margins of woods. In winter in the tropics, found in open scrub and woodland edges in the lowlands.
A bizarre series of hoots, whistles, and clucks, coming from the briar tangles, announces the presence of the Yellow-breasted Chat. The bird is often hard to see, but sometimes it launches into the air to sing its odd song as it flies, with floppy wingbeats and dangling legs, above the thickets. This is our largest warbler, and surely the strangest as well, seeming to suggest a cross between a warbler and a Mockingbird.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, Western
  • immature (1st year), Western
  • adult male, Eastern
  • immature (1st year), Eastern
Feeding Behavior

Forages by searching among foliage among dense low tangles or by perching to eat berries. Unlike any other warbler, will hold its food with one foot while it feeds. Forages alone during migration and winter, rather than joining feeding flocks.


Eggs

3-4, up to 6. Eggs large, creamy white, with brown spots at large end. Incubation by female only, 11 days. Commonly parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Young: Fed by both parents. Leave the nest about 8 days after hatching. Normally 2 broods per year.


Young

Fed by both parents. Leave the nest about 8 days after hatching. Normally 2 broods per year.

Diet

Insects and berries. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including moths, beetles, bugs, ants, bees, wasps, mayflies, grasshoppers, katydids, caterpillars, and praying mantises; also spiders. Up to half of diet (or more in fall) may be berries and wild fruit, including blackberries, elderberries, wild grapes, and others. Wintering birds in the Northeast often come to bird-feeders, where they will take many unnatural items such as suet or peanut butter.


Nesting

During courtship, male displays to female by pointing bill up and swaying from side to side. In flight song display, male flies up singing, hovers, drops slowly with its wings flapping over its back and legs dangling loosely, then returns to perch. Occasionally nests in loose colonies. Nest: Placed 1-8' above the ground, well concealed in dense shrub or tangled vines. Large open cup nest is constructed by female. Outer base of dead leaves, straw, and weeds provides support for a tightly woven inner nest of vine bark, lined with fine weed stems and grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Most leave our area in fall, to winter in the tropics. Every fall, however, many show up along the northeastern coast, and some of these stay through the winter, even as far north as New England.

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Migration

Most leave our area in fall, to winter in the tropics. Every fall, however, many show up along the northeastern coast, and some of these stay through the winter, even as far north as New England.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Series of widely spaced croaks, whistles, and short repeated phrases, very unlike a typical warbler's song. Often sings at night. At times it performs a musical display flight, flopping awkwardly up and down with legs dangling, while singing.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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