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Yellow-breasted Chat

Icteria virens ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Yellow-breasted Chat offers a cascade of song in the spring, when males deliver streams of whistles, cackles, chuckles, and gurgles with the fluidity of improvisational jazz. It’s seldom seen or heard during the rest of the year, when both males and females skulk silently in the shadows of dense thickets, gleaning insects and berries for food. The largest of our warblers, the chat is a widespread breeder in shrubby habitats across North America, venturing to Central America for the winter.

Keys to identification Help

Warblerlike
Warblerlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Chats are small songbirds but are large and bulky compared to other warblers. They have a long tail, large head and a relatively thick, heavy bill.

  • Color Pattern

    Chats are olive-green above with a bright yellow breast and bold face markings. The face is gray, with a white eyering that connects to the bill, forming “spectacles.” They also have a white malar or mustache stripe bordering the cheek. The lower belly is white.

  • Behavior

    These are loud birds that tend to skulk in low, thick brush. In spring, males may sing from an exposed perch, but otherwise these birds typically stay well hidden.

  • Habitat

    Yellow-breasted Chats live in thickets and other dense, regrowing areas such as bramble bushes, clearcuts, powerline corridors, and shrubs along streams.

Range Map Help

Yellow-breasted Chat Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

Other warblers and vireos are considerably smaller than Yellow-breasted Chats. Kentucky Warblers have black patches bordering the throat, and lack the white spectacles of Yellow-breasted Chats. Common Yellowthroats skulk in the same manner as chats, but males have a dark mask across the face rather than the chat’s bold gray-and-white face pattern. Yellow-throated Vireos tend to forage in tree canopies much higher than chats. They are more compact, with a shorter tail and smaller bill than a chat; they have yellow spectacles compared to the chat’s white spectacles; and they have two wingbars on gray wings, whereas the chat has unmarked, olive-green wings.

Regional Differences

Individuals that breed west of the western Great Plains and West Texas have a longer white malar or mustache stripe, slightly grayer upperparts, and slightly longer tails.

Find This Bird

Though widespread, Yellow-breasted Chats can be hard to find, thanks to their habit of skulking in dense thickets. You’ll have the most success looking (or listening) for them early in the breeding season, when male performs his extensive repertoire of loud whistles, rattles, catcalls, grunts, and other sounds. He often sings from an exposed perch or while doing an exaggerated display flight that ends with a thumping sound (probably made by his wings). Pay special attention to birds that make scolding sounds but remain hidden in thickets; with patience and perhaps a few pishing sounds you may coax a chat into view.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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