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Yellow-breasted Chat

Icteria virens

Length: 7.25 inches Wingspan: 9.5 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Bright yellow throat and breast, dark olive-grey upperparts, distinct white eye-ring, thick bill

Yellow-breasted Chat - Icteria virensThe Yellow-breasted Chat was once considered the largest warbler found in the United States. Recent genetic analysis has brought into doubt whether they truly are warblers, however, and as of 2017, the American Ornithological Society has moved the species to its own family. Its behavior is more like a thrasher or a catbird, as it prefers to hide in dense cover, giving off a sometimes bizarre series of calls. Males are sometimes easier to observe, as they fly over the undergrowth with legs dangling, singing as they go.

Habitat: During breeding season, prefers very brushy thickets, such as those found along streams, woodland and swamp edges, and overgrown pastures.

Diet: Insects, and unlike many warblers, depends heavily on berries and other fruits.

Behavior: Usually forages alone, clambering through brushy thickets in search of insects and berries.

Nesting: June and July. The female builds the nest, constructing a cup of grasses and other plant stems, leaves, strips of bark, and moss, and lines it with finer material including fine grasses, hair, and rootlets.  It is placed relatively low to the ground (generally less than 10 feet) in very thick, shrubby vegetation. She incubates the eggs for about 12 days before they hatch. The young fledge from the nest after another 10-12 days.

Song: The song of a Yellow-breasted Chat is an odd mix of cackles and musical phrases. Click here to hear sample audio of a singing Yellow-breasted Chat (audio courtesy of Ted Floyd). 

Migration: Summers throughout much of the United States.  Winters in Mexico and points south. Small numbers, however, do overwinter along the U.S. east coast every year, even as far as New England.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Yellow-breasted Chat sightings

Similar Species: Generally distinctive

Bird Feeders:  Those that overwinter in the eastern U.S. often come to feeders for suet or peanut butter.  Will also sometimes come to feeders for sugar water and nectar, or certain fruits.

Conservation Status: Has declined locally in parts of the Southwest, but has increased its numbers in the Southeast due to brushy habitats created by forest clearing.  Overall numbers are generally stable, and there are no perceived systematic threats to the population. The IUCN considers the Yellow-breasted Chat to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Yellow-breasted Chat

2) Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Yellow-breasted Chat

3) WhatBird - Yellow-breasted Chat

Photo Information:  July 23rd, 2011 - North Cave Hills, Harding County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional higher-resolution photos of this species.

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Yellow-breasted Chat - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer resident in the western part of the state, rare migrant in the east.

Additional Yellow-breasted Chat Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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