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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.

Songs

Males have a large repertoire of songs made up of whistles, cackles, mews, catcalls, caw notes, chuckles, rattles, squawks, gurgles, and pops, which they repeat and string together with great variety. Songs of Western birds may be higher in pitch and more rapid than those of eastern birds. They sing in morning and evening (and even at night during the height of the breeding season), either concealed in thickets or exposed on prominent perches within their breeding territories.

Calls

  • Song, call
     
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

They have a variety of calls, including a distinctive harsh scolding. Females also make a gargling growl when disturbed at the nest. Wintering males and females give a “chuck” call to defend winter territories.

Other Sounds

Males produce a hollow, thumping sound during display flights, probably made with their wings. Females may also make this sound while flying, and may clap their bills with a soft, snapping sound when at the nest.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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