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Yellow-breasted Chat Life History


ScrubThe Yellow-breasted Chat breeds in areas of dense shrubbery, including abandoned farm fields, clearcuts, powerline corridors, fencerows, forest edges and openings, swamps, and edges of streams and ponds. Its habitat often includes blackberry bushes. In arid regions of the West it is frequently found in shrubby habitats along rivers. During migration the Yellow-breasted Chat usually stays in low, dense vegetation but may sometimes use suburban habitats. Most of the population winters from Mexico (in lowlands along both coasts) to western Panama, in low vegetation similar to that in which it breeds. This wintering habitat includes shrubsteppe, savanna, pasture with scattered trees, riparian forest, mangroves, disturbed tropical forests, and tropical scrub. Back to top


InsectsYellow-breasted Chats forage mainly on spiders and insects, including beetles, bugs, ants, bees, mayflies, cicadas, moths, and caterpillars. They glean invertebrates from foliage in the dense thickets on their breeding grounds, using their feet to hold prey. Chats may also eat fruits and berries, including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, and wild grapes. They feed their nestlings caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other soft-bodied insects. On wintering grounds, Yellow-breasted Chats rely on a combination of insects, spiders, and fruits for food.Back to top


Nest Placement

ShrubYellow-breasted Chats nest in low, dense vegetation—such as raspberry, blackberry, grapevine, dogwood, hawthorn, cedar, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and sumac. Their build their nests 1–8 feet above the ground, supported by branches and often by masses of vegetation. They may use nest sites previously used by different individuals, although they rebuild the nest each time.

Nest Description

The female builds a bulky cup of grasses, leaves, bark strips, and weed stems lined with fine grasses, wiry plant stems, pine needles, and sometimes roots and hair. It measures 5–6 inches across on the outside. The inner cup measures 2.5–3.5 inches across and 2–2.5 inches high.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.7-1.0 in (1.8-2.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.8 in (1.5-1.9 cm)
Incubation Period:10-12 days
Nestling Period:7-10 days
Egg Description:White or off-white with speckles of red, brown, gray, or purple.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless and naked, with closed eyes.
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Foliage GleanerDuring the breeding season, males sometimes fight near territorial boundaries, fluttering and grappling with their feet. They give display flights in the presence of females, other males, or human intruders. This entails descending from a high perch while singing, often with exaggerated wingbeats and a drooping tail. At the end of the flight they make a thumping sound, presumably with their wings. Most males stay with one mate during the breeding season, but some have two mates. DNA studies show that nestlings are sometimes fathered by males outside of the breeding pair. The female builds the nest and broods the chicks, and both parents feed the young. Though males sing conspicuously during the breeding season, chats otherwise skulk quietly in the underbrush. Their flight is direct and low through dense vegetation or sometimes across open fields. During the winter chats are sedentary and solitary, and individuals may defend territories.Back to top


Low Concern

Yellow-breasted Chats are fairly common, although their numbers declined by an approximately 32% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population at 17 million individuals and rates them 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. Eastern breeding populations probably increased and expanded their range in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century thanks to shrubby habitat created by logging, forest fragmentation, and abandoned farms. However, from 1966 to 2019 populations declined by approximately 0.7% per year as forests grew up again and reduced suitable habitat. Western breeding populations, on the other hand, have increased by nearly the same amount, despite losses of riparian habitat. Though not nationally threatened, the species is listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern in some provinces and states on the edge of its range where it was historically present in higher numbers. Chats benefit from clearcuts and powerline clearing that creates shrubby habitat. They decline when grazing, canopy closure, or other factors decrease this habitat type. Migrating chats can collide with tall buildings and radio towers or become disoriented by bright lights.

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Eckerle, Kevin P. and Charles F. Thompson. (2001). Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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