The 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
Yellow-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
Yellow-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.
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.
|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.|
During 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
Yellow-breasted Chats are fairly common, although their numbers declined by an estimated 37% between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global population at 13 million individuals, with 90% spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 50% in Mexico. They rate a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. 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 2014 eastern populations declined by an average of over 1% per year (corresponding to a cumulative decline of 41%) 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.Back to top
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.
North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.
Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.