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Yellow-breasted Chat

A brightly-colored songbird with a yellow breast, olive-green upperparts, and a distinctive, varied song that is commonly found in dense shrubby habitats across North America.

Broadly though sparsely distributed during the breeding season in the U.S., the Yellow-breasted Chat is migratory, and extensive records of collisions with towers and other objects indicate that it migrates at night. Second broods appear to be rare in Yellow-breasted Chats, although if a first nest fails, many pairs will attempt a second nest.

Rates of nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird are generally fairly high, and have ranged from about five percent to over ninety percent. It is not clear how much of an effect parasitism has on chats, because the young seem to be able to hold their own against their cowbird nest mates when it comes to securing food from the adult chats.

Description of the Yellow-breasted Chat


The Yellow-breasted Chat has brownish-green upperparts and wings, a yellow throat and breast, a white belly, black lores, white spectacles, and a heavy bill for a warbler.

Sexes are similar, though the male’s lores are blacker.  Length: 7 in.  Wingspan: 10 in.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.



The sexes are similar, though the female’s lores are grayer.

Seasonal change in appearance

There is very little seasonal change in appearance.


Fall immatures resemble fall adults, but have a brownish wash on the flanks.


Yellow-breasted Chats inhabit dense scrub, briars, and streamsides.


Yellow-breasted Chats eat insects and berries.


Yellow-breasted Chats forage in low foliage.


Yellow-breasted Chats breed locally across much of the U.S. and parts of southwestern Canada, as well as in Mexico. They winter in Mexico and Central America. The population appears stable.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Yellow-breasted Chat.

Fun Facts

Yellow-breasted Chats have a flight song and display flight that involves dangling legs and deep, slow wingbeats.

The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest wood-warbler, almost looking like a tanager due to its large size and heavy bill.  Some authorities now place the chat it is own group, no longer cinsidering it a wood-warlber.


The song is a highly variable sequence of whistles, mews, caws, and mechanical sounds.  A harsh “chew” call is also given.

Similar Species

  • Common Yellowthroat
    Common Yellowthroats are much smaller, and males have much more extensive black in the face. 



The Yellow-breasted Chat’s nest is a cup of grasses, forbs, and leaves and is lined with finer materials. It is placed low in a dense thicket.

Number: Usually lay 3-5 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 11-12 days and fledge at about 9 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.

Bent Life History of the Yellow-breasted Chat

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Yellow-breasted Chat – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


This curious bird seems somewhat out of place among the wood warblers, on account of its large size, different proportions, and strikingly different behavior. There were confused ideas among the earlier writers as to where it belongs. Audubon classed it with the manakins, and others have placed it with the vireos or with the honeycreepers, but structurally it seems to be most closely related to the wood warblers, with its nine primaries, partly booted tarsus, and deeply cleft inner toe. It differs from the vireos, which also have nine primaries, in having no notch in the bill. But it also differs from the wood warblers in having a larger, heavier and more curved bill, shorter and more rounded wings, and relatively longer and more graduated tail.

During the breeding season the species Icteria virens occupies practically all the United States, except Florida, the Gulf coast, and northern New England. Its range extends into southern New England, where it is rare and irregular north and east of Connecticut, and into some southern portions of central Canada, where it is also irregular in its occurrence. Throughout all this range it is perhaps commoner than we suppose, on account of its secretive habits. Its favorite resorts are the very dense thickets and briery tangles that grow in profusion on low, damp ground, along small streams, or about the borders of ponds or swamps. But it also finds a congenial home in isolated patches of thick, tangled shrubbery on high, dry ground, in old, neglected pastures and along the edges of wcodlands. Especially attractive are such upland thickets where small trees and bushes are entwined with an almost impenetrable tangle of catbrier, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and wild grape vines. In such unattractive places for exploration, the bird is often overlooked by the casual observer, for it is a past master in the art of keeping out of sight. But a medley of strange sounds, musical and otherwise, catcalls, whistles, and various bird notes coming from points now here, now there in the bushes will betray the presence of this furtive and elusive clown among birds. Then, if we sit down quietly and squeak in imitation of a wounded bird, curiosity will prompt this versatile performer to show himself for a moment, after which he will disappear, to scold us from some remote corner of his retreat.

Courtship: Chats are not much in evidence on their spring migration; they apparently do not often make long sustained flights in the open, but move along by short stages, keeping concealed for the most part in the dense thickets of shrubbery and vines, and are largely silent. But when they reach their chosen breeding grounds, the males proclaim their presence and advertise their home territory by the medley of whistling, chuckling, barking, and mewing sounds, coupled with the curious eccentricities that have made them famous.

When the females arrive, about a week later, the males greet them with a richer, more musical, and more pleasing performance, which P. A. Taverner (1906) describes very well, as follows:

His love-song is a woodland idyl and makes up for much of his shortcomings. From some elevated perch from which lie can survey the surrounding waste for a coasiderahie distance, he flings himself into the air: straight up he goes on fluttering wings: legs dangling, head raised, his whole being tense and spasmodic with ecstasy. As he rises he pours fourth a flood of musical gurgles, and whistles that drop from him in silvery cascades to the ground, like sounds of fairy chimes. As he reaches the apex of his flight his wings redouble their beatings, working straight up and down, while the legs hanging limply down remind the observer of those drawings we sometimes see from the brushes of Japanese artists. He holds his hovering position for an instant, then the music gradually dies away; and, as he sinks toward the ground, he regains his natural poise, and seeks another perch like that from which he started. What mistress could turn a deaf ear to such love-making as that? And we can rest assured that his does not.

Nesting: Although the eastern yellow-breasted chat has nested a number of times, rather irregularly, in Massachusetts, I have never found it farther north and east than Connecticut, where it is a regular and common breeder.

I find three typical nests recorded in my notes, found near New Haven, Conn., on June 3 and 4, 1910. The first xvas 3 feet from the ground in a clump of dogwood and hawthorn bushes; and the second was in a thicket of small black birches overgrown with catbriers, 30 inches above ground; both of these nests ~vere rather insecurely attached to their supports; the locality was a large neglected tract of cut-over land, grown up to scattered clumps of bushes and sprouting stumps. The third nest was only 2 feet up in a small huckleberry bush in a scrubby field, full of underbrush and scattered red cedars. The three nests were all much alike, consisting of a foundation of dead leaves, coarse straws, and weed stems, on which was built a firmly woven inner nest of grapevine bark, thinly lined with fine weed stems and grasses.

A. IDawes Du Bois has sent me his notes on two nests found in Sangamon County, Ill., on May 30, 1908. The first of these was “two feet from the ground in a clump of blackberry briers, in a pasture thicket. It was constructed outwardly of small vine and weed stems, then a thick layer of dried oak leaves which formed the body of the nest. There was a slight lining of grasses and fine plant stems, inside the layer of leaves. A few shreds of coarse grass were added just before the layer of leaves was put in. There were 32 oak leaves and one elm leaf in the body of the nest, all smoothly laid in place. The dimensions were: Internal diameter 3 inches, depth 2; external diameter 5 inches, depth 3.” The second nest was “3 feet from the ground in a wild gooseberry bush intergrown with blackberry briers, amid dense foilage, in a thicket-grown pasture.” lie mentions seven other nests, seen in Tompkins County, N. Y.; most were from 2½ to 5 feet up in various bushes, but one was “about 8 feet from the ground, loosely supported on a drooping young elm tree in a dense thicket.”

T. E. McMullen’s notes record data on 34 New Jersey and Pennsylvania nests found at heights from 18 inches to 5 feet; 21 of these were in blackberries, the others being in various bushes and vines; 3 were in hollies.

Nests of the yellow-breasted chat have doubtless been found in many other small trees and bushes, but the notes I have cited give a good idea of its usual nesting habits. Dr. Chapman (1907) says that he has known chats to nest in a village when favorable cover was available. A most unusual nesting site is recorded by Charles F. Batchelder (1881) ; a pair of chats began building a nest in a wren box on a piazza; a violent windstorm blew down the box, which was replaced, but the chats did not return.

Eggs: The number of eggs laid by the yellow-breasted chat varies from 3 to 5 to a set, commonly 5, but as many as 6 have been recorded. The eggs are ovate and rather glossy. The white, or creamy white, ground color is speckled and spotted with “bay,” “chestnut,” “auburn,” “argus brown,” or “chestnut-brown,” with underspottings of “brownish drab,” “light vinaceous-drab,” or “pale brownish drab.” The markings, usually sharply defined, are generally scattered over the entire egg with some concentration at the large end. Often the brown and the drab markings are equally intermingled, and then again the drab spots may be entirely lacking. Some of the more attractive eggs are marked with blotches, often of two or three shades of brown mixed with the drabs. The measurements of 50 eggs average 21.9 by 16.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 25.4 by 17.3, 22.1 by 18.3, 18.3 by 17.3, and 22.1 by 15.8 millimeters (Harris).

Young: F. L. Burns (1915b and 1921) recorded the incubation period as 15 days, which is probably unusual, for George A. Petrides (1938) determined it to be 11 days “from the appearance of the full clutch.” Burns gives 11 days for the young to remain in the nest, but IPetrides says that they spent 8 days in the nest before leaving. The latter continues:

The young were born naked. Brooding of both eggs and young was accomplished by the female alone during the period of observation, although both sexes evidently feed the young. * * *

The food of the young consisted almost entirely of soft-bodied orthoptera and larval lepidoptera. The only insect definitely identilied was the large green mantis (Paratenodera. sinensis), two half-grown specimens of which were fed the four-day old young. An unknown species of brown, almost hairless caterpillar was the greatest capture in numbers. A small green long-horned locust and a small brownish grasshopper also were fed the youngsters.

Four-day old young were fed only six times in five hours by the female, although the male attempted unsuccessfully to feed them several times. Copeland (1909), however, records a feeding time average of once every thirty-four minutes for the four-day old young over a thirteen-hour period.

The nest was kept very clean and the female, after feeding the young, would look carefully about the nest and if any excretory capsules were present she would pick them up in her bill and eat them. On one occasion, after swallowing the excretory sacs of two of the young she pulled a third capsule from the anus of the third and flew off with it.

Plumages: The yellow-breasted chat seems to be the only wood warbler that develops no natal down, and the only one that has a complete postjuvenal molt, characteristics that suggest a wrong classification! Dr. Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage as “above, grayish olive-brown. Wings and tail olive-brown, edged with dull brownish olive-green. Below, ashy gray washed with olive-gray across the jugulum and on the sides. Auriculars grayish and lores dusky with a trace of white above the eye. * * * This plumage has been figured in colors (A uk, XVI, .1899, pp. 217: 220, pl. III).”

The first winter plumage is “acquired by a complete postjuvenal moult after the middle of July. Two specimens examined show a complete moult in progress and the color and shape of rectrices in the limited material at my disposal points to this unusual moult, for this is the only Warbler known to me that renews wings and tail at this time.”

He describes the first winter plumage of the male as “above, brownish olive-green, the wings and tail darker than in juvenal plumage and with greener edgings. Below, bright lemon-yellow, somewhat veiled with olive-gray, the abdomen and crissum dull white, the sides washed with olive-brown. Lores, suborbital region and postocular stripe dull black, veiled with ashy feather tips. Superciliary, suborbital and malar stripes white. Young and old become practically indistinguishable although young birds are rather duller.”

The first and subsequent nuptial plumages are assumed by wear and slight fading of the browns and greens. Adults have a complete postnuptial molt in July, producing the adult winter plumage, which differs but little from that of the first winter, the black areas about the head averaging blacker.

Females have the same molts and similar plumages, the colors being only lighter or duller.

Food: Probably all of the items mentioned above in the food of the young are also eaten by adult chats. A. H. Howell (1932) writes: “The Chat feeds largely on insects, including beetles, bugs, ants, weevils, bees, wasps, May flies, and various caterpillars, such as tent caterpillars and currant worms. It is said to be fond of xvild strawberries and takes considerable other wild fruit, such as blackberries, raspberries, whortleberries, elderberries, and wild grapes. The stomachs of 7 specimens taken on Amelia Island in May and June contained insects and fruit pulp in about equal proportions, with a few spiders and small crustaceans. The insects included moths and their larvae, beetles, bugs, ants, wasps, and grasshoppers. The fruit consisted of blueberries and blackberries.” Elsewhere (1907) he lists the chat among the birds that eat the cotton-boll weevil.

Behavior: Next to its astonishing vocal performances, the eccentric, ludicrous, almost clownish, behavior is one of the chat’s most outstanding characteristics. Although a bit fanciful and imaginary, Dr. J. M. Wheaton’s (1882) account is a good character study of this buffoon of the brier patch.

If he discovers the approach of a human being, even at a considerable distance, he prepares to resent the intrusion; and giving three short, loud whistles, very low in tone, as a warning, he advances to~vard him, alt the while careful that he should be heard and not seen. Then follows a medley of sputtering, cackling, whispering and scolding notes, frequently interspersed with loud whistles, and continued as the bird runs, hops, or flies in the densest thicket, with a pertinacity that knows no fatigue. He tells you that your gun won’t shoot, that it is a flint-lock, that your ramrod is broken, that you shot it at a buzzard, that you haven’t got a gun; that you are a bald-beaded cripple; that there is a horrid suicide in the bushes, and a big snake and a nasty skunk; that your baby is crying, your house is afire and the bridge broken down; that you have missed the road to the reform farm, and that the poor house is over the creek, and he calls the dogs; says that you have gone to seed; go west and grow up with the country; that you are taking up too much of his valuable time, and that you must excuse him for a moment.

During all this time he remains invisible, or at most, his black eye and mask, or golden breast, appear for a moment as he peers at yon from the tangled branches of the brambles, or flashes from branch to branch, dancing an accompaniment to his fantastic notes. And at last, he suddenly appears on the top of a bush not ten feet from you, makes a profound how, and with a derisive whisk of his long tail, exposes his immaculate white crissum and dives again into the deepest thicket. You take a long breath and wipe your face, and he returns to the assault from the rear. Should you move on, he follows, and if you approach, he retires, and, keeping at a respectful distance, he laughs defiance, shouts mockery and tantalizing sarcasm. He is a fearful scold, and it is no wonder the inside of his month is black.

And Taverner (1906) gives the following character sketch:

With his stealthy elusiveness, wild outpourings of song and fund of vitopera. don, the Chat is a droll imp. * * * He is full of life and boiling over with animation. It bubbles out of his throat in all manner of indescribable sounds.

He laughs dryly, gurgles derisively, whistles triumphantly, chatters provokingly, and chuckles complacently, all in one breath. He throws himself about through the bush regardless of consequences, never still, scrutinizing the Intruder in all attitudes. Viewing him now from under a branch, and then from over It, talking always exictedly, rather incoherently and usually indelicately. In fact, one throat is not sufficient to relieve the pressure of his feelings, and he presses into service his long tail, and with it wig-wngs things such as even he, irresponsible little sprite that he is, dare not say out loud.

The chat has a well-deserved reputation for shyness and elusiveness. When the nest is approached, the female will usually slip off it and away without being observed; and she has been said to desert her eggs, or even her young, on slight provocation. But this is not always the case, as is shown by the many excellent photographs t.hat have been taken of the bird at its nest. A. D. Du Bois tells me that on three out of nine of the nests examined by him, the sitting bird was quite tame, allowing him to approach quite closely and, in one case, almost to touch her. Gradual and careful approach to the nest gave Petrides (1938) an opportunity to take some fine pictures and to study the home life of the chat. “The blind, a green umbrella tent six and one-half feet high, was first erected some eighteen feet from the nest and moved forward about four feet every other day until, when the eggs were hatched, the tent was only two and one-half feet from the nest. On each visit several leaves were plucked from before the nest until it was well exposed.”

His second nest “was approached noisily through the underbrush on six different occasions and the contents lifted out and handled,” but the birds did not desert it.

Voice: To the comments already made on the chat’s vocal performances must be added the more serious contribution of Aretas A. Saunders, who says: “The song of the yellow-breasted chat is not only entirely unlike that of any other warbler, but unlike that of any other bird with which I am acquainted. it is long-continued, and consists of a variety of notes and phrases delivered in an irregular, mixed order, with pauses between them. The phrases vary greatly in quality, consisting of whistles, harsh cackles, squawks, squeals, and various explosive noises, not always easy to describe. Some of these are single short notes, short series of notes, or long series, often retarded in time.

“The pitches of these various sounds range from B’ to A”‘, almost two octaves. Songs of individual birds range from three and a half tones to seven and a half, averaging about an octave. The songs are sometimes fairly rapid, and at other times slow. I have one song recorded as ‘1 phrases in 9 seconds, and another where the average pause between phrases was 6 seconds.

“I have records from 20 different birds, but only those of 11 are behieved to be complete, that is, all the phrases commonly used are recorded. These 11 birds each had from 6 to 10 phrases in their song, averaging about 7. Only one bird had 10 phrases; of these 5 were single notes, 3 being whistles, 1 harsh, and 1 like a note on an organ; 2 other phrases were of several notes repeated in even time, one whistied, the other very harsh; the other 3 were long series of notes, retarded at the end, two of them whistled but on different pitches, the other like a long rattle. I recorded the singing of this bird, and the order of phrases, as it sang 48 phrases. There was great variety in the arrangement. One phrase was used 11 times, another 10, while 2 other phrases were sung only once, and the others from 2 to 8 times each.

“Not only is the song unusual, but also the manner of singing, for the bird frequently flies from one bush to another while singing, flapping its wings up and down and pumping its tail, with its legs dangling, the line of flight being exceedingly jerky.

“This bird is reported to imitate other birds. I have never heard any thing I believed was an actual imitation, but there are often sounds that suggest the sounds of other birds. I recorded one such as ‘like the chuck of a robin,’ and another as ‘like a note of the yellow-throated vireo,’ but I did not consider them to be imitations.

“The chat sings from the time of its arrival in spring until about the third week in July, but I have too few observations to give average dates of cessation.~~ The yellow-breasted chat, according to Albert R. Brand (1938), has the lowest-pitched voice of any of the warbler family, its highest note being but little above the average frequency of all passerine song; he recorded the highest note as having a frequency of 4,400 vibrations per second, the lowest 1,275 (the lowest of all but the starling and the catbird), and the approximate mean 2,600 vibrations per second (lower than all but three or four others).

Several observers have classed the chat as a mimic, and it certainly gives that impression, but its own vocabulary is so extensive and varied that perhaps it is only an impression; it does not need to learn much from others.

It is a most versatile vocalist and a most persistent singer at times; its voice may be heard at any hour of the day or night, especially on moonlit nights. To try to express its ~varied notes in syllables is almost hopeless. Mr. Forbush (1929) suggests the following: “C-r-r-r-r-r, whrr, that’s it, chee, quack, cluck, yit-yit-yit, now hit it, tr-r-r-r, when, caw,caw, cut,cut, tea-boy, who, who, mew, mew, and so on till you are tired of listening.” Dr. Witmer Stone (1937) heard one give a rapid call like that of a kingfisher. “One singing from inside a wild cherry bush had a trill like that of a tree toad, a pheu, pheu, call like a Greater Yellow-legs, and a strange note resembling a distant’ automobile horn. One of the other birds sat on the top of a dead bush in full view, all hunched up as if its back were broken and with tail hanging straight down. Every now and then it would stretch up its neck, which appeared very thick and out of proportion, with feathers all ruffled up on end, and utter a triple note hoo-hoo-lwo.”

The chat usually sings within the dense thickets in which it hides, or perhaps from the top of some small tree or bush only a few feet above the thicket, but Clarence F. Stone mentions in his notes, sent to me by Verdi Burtch, one that he heard and saw singing in the top of a large tree, 45 feet above the ground.

Dr. Daniel S. Gage tells me that he heard a chat give a number of times “a note which we could liken only to the sweet tone of a silver bell.”

Field marks: Its large size, heavy bill, and long tail will distinguish the eastern yellow-breasted chat from any of the other wood warblers, also from the yellow-throated vireo, which it suggests in color pattern, though the chat has no white wing bars. The olive-green upper parts, with no white in wings or tail, the white stripe over the eye, the bright yellow throat and breast, and the pure white abdomen are all diagnostic. Its behavior and, above all, its vocal performances are unlike those of any other bird; as it is more often heard than seen, it is most easily recognized by its noisy voice.

Enemies: The.yellow-breasted chat is a common victim of the cowbird, but it will often desert its nest after the alien egg is deposited. Dr. Friedmann (1929) gives about one hundred records of such parasitism, and mentions only three cases of tolerance, though doubtless there have been many other cases where chats have accepted the eggs, which are about the same size as its own, and have raised the young. He says: “Apparently there is considerable variation in the sensitiveness of Chats around their nests, but the bulk of the evidence goes to show that normally a Cowbird’s egg has little chance of ever being hatched by a Yellow-breasted Chat.”

Winter: Dr. Skutch contributes the following account: “During the winter, the yellow-breasted chat spreads over Central America, including both coasts and the lower parts of the highlands, as far as southern Costa Rica. In this country it is rare and I have never seen it; but I knew it as a rather abundant winter resident in the Caribbean lowlands of Honduras, and on both sides of Guatemala. Here I found it on the coffee plantations of the Pacific slope, up to about 3,500 feet above sea-level, in January; and while I have no midwinter record for higher altitudes, on the shore of Lake Atitl~n, at 4.900 feet, during the last week of October, I saw two: a number which, considering the retiring habits of the bird, indicates fair abundance.

“The chats arrive in northern Central America toward the end of September. On October 1, 1930, they suddenly became exceedingly numerous in the narrow valley of the Tela River in northern Honduras. As I passed from a dense second-growth thicket to the comparatively open vegetation of the flood-plain of the river, I was greeted by a chorus of chucks and cackles, which reminded me strongly of the sound of a distant flock of purple grackles or red-winged blackbirds; the voices were by no means so loud as those of the blackbirds when chattering close at hand, yet in aggregate they created much the same impression. A numerous party of garrulous yellow-breasted chats had spread out among the trees and vine-tangles of the stony plain. Although they so loquaciously proclaimed their presence, the birds Were yet so wary, lurking among the densest tangles, that they were by no means easy to glimpse; but during the course of an hour I saw a number, and watched them forage among the Cecropia and other trees. Among their varied utterances were harsh c1uck8, as a man makes by elacking his tongue far back in his mouth, to urge a laggard horse, and nasal notes like those of the catbird. How unexpected to come upon a warbler with a voice like a grackle! Soon the chats were well distributed over the valley; and their calls sounded from every side all through the day.

“While migrating, yellow-breasted chats may at times appear in the most surprising situations. On October 5, 1934, I found one among the open shrubbery of the central plaza of the town of Retalhuleu, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Without much doubt, this bird used the little park only as a temporary place of rest, and soon moved on to a more sequestered spot.

“When well settled in their winter home, the chats gradually grow less loquacious. The flocks in which they apparently arrive soon disperse; and they live in solitude through the winter months. Avoiding the forest, they hunt through the most tangled thickets, where their presence would scarcely be suspected but for their harsh notes occasionally voiced. They are at all times so secretive that to glimpse one is a feat: or an accident. They linger deep in their vine-smothered thickets until about the middle of April, then return northward.

“Early dates of fall arrival in Central America are: Guatemala: passim (Griscom), September24; Colomba, September29, 1934. Honduras: Tela, October 1, 1930.

“Late dates of spring departure from Central America are: Costa Rica: El Pozo de T&raba (Underwood) , April 9, 1906. Guatemala: passim (Griscom), April 7; Motagua Valley, near Los Amates, April 17, 1932.”

Range: Southern Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

Breeding range: The yellow-breasted chat breeds north to southern British Columbia (Suinas, probably Penticton, Vancouver, and Kainloops) ; central southern Alberta (Milk River Valley) ; southern Saskatchewan (Cypress Lake and East End, probably Tregarva) northwest and central northern North Dakota (Minot, Charlson, and Rice Lake) ; southern Minnesota (Hendricks and ïWilder) ; southern Ontario (Harrow, Port Burwell, probably Coldstream, Hamilton, and Oshawa) ; central New York (Rochester, Geneva, Holland Patent, and Schenectady; probably Granville) ; southern Vermont (Bennington) and southern New Hampshire (South Hooksett). East to southern New Hampshire (South Hooksett) and south along the Atlantic coast to northern Florida (Tallahassee) ; rare breeder on Coastal Plains. South to northern Florida (Tallahassee, Amelia Island, and Pensacola); Texas (Fort Worth, Houston, Kerrville, Hidalgo, and Brazos County) ; southern Tamaulipas (probably Tampico) ; Mexico (Mexico City) ; Jalisco (Ocothin and Lagos) southern Sonora (Lower Rio Yaqui and Quiriego) ; and south-central Baja California (Comondfi). West to Baja California (Comond~) and the Pacific coast (except Oregon and Washington west of the coastal ranges) to southern British Columbia (Vancouver).

Winter range: The yellow-breasted chat winters north to southern Baja California (Cabo San Lucas) ; southern Sinaloa (Esquinapa) and southern Texas (Laredo). East to southern Texas (Laredo) central Tamaulipas (Arroyo de la Presa) ; Veracruz (Motzorongo and Tres Zapotes) ; Tabasco (Frontera) ; Yucat~iii (M~rida, and ChiclI~n: Itzi) ; Quint ana Roo (iXcop6n, Clninyaxch~, and Cozumel Island) ; Honduras (Ceiba and Yaruca) Nicaragua (Gieytown) CostaRica (San Jos6) and western PanamA (Almnirante). South to western PanamA (Almirante) ; El Salvador (Puerto el Triunfo and Lake Olomega) ; Guatemala (VolcTh de Fuego, CobTh, and Choctum) ; Oaxaca (Llano Grande and Telinantepec City) ; and Colima (Colima and Mauzanillo). West to Colima (Manzanillo) ; southern Sinaloa (Esquinapa) ; and southern Baja California (Cabo San Lucas).

Chats have been recorded casually north to southern Manitoba (Brandon) ; northeastern North Dakota (Fort Union) ; central Miminesota (Brainerd and Saint Cloud) ; southwestern Maine (North Bridgton, Eliot, and Portland) ; and south on peninsular Florida (Dunedin, Fort Myers, and Key Largo). They are accidental in New Brunswick (Saint Andrews and Grand Manan) ; rare in southwestern British Columbia (Comnox and Courtenay) ; and north to southwestern California (San Diego).

The range as above outlined is for the entire species, which has been separated into two geographic races. The eastern yellow-breasted chat (Icter~ia viren~s virens) breeds west to South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and eastern Texas, wintering from eastern Mexico south through Central America to western Panam6~; the western yellowbreasted chat (Icteria viren~ auricollis) occupies the western part of the range to the Pacific coast, wintering in western Mexico and Central Guatemela.

Migration: L ate dates of spring departure are: Costa Rica: Pozo del Rio Grande, April 9. El Salvador: Lake Olomega, April 12. British Honduras: Mountain Cow, April 7. Guatemala: near Quirigua, April 17. Texas: Cove, May 12; Dallas, May 18.

Early dates of spring arrival are: Florida: Titusville, April 19; Pensacola, April 17. Alabama: Greensboro, April 8; Birmingham, April 14 (average of 10 years, April 19). Georgia: Round Oak, April 9. South Carolina: Summerville, April 9. North Carolina: Charlotte, April 14; Raleigb, April 17 (average of 29 years, April 25). Virginia: Cape Henry, April 16; Rockbridge County, April 22. West Virginia: Wheeling area, April 23; French Creek, April 26 (average of 17 years, April 30). District of Columbia: Washington, April 16 (average of 52 years, April 30). Maryland: Chevy Chase, April 14. Delaware: Kent and Sussex Counties, March 29 (average of 18 years, April 10). Pennsylvania: Mercer County, April 21; Renovo, April 24 (average of 25 years, May 7). New Jersey: Montclair and Livingston, April 30. New York: Bronx, April 28; Ithaca, May 4 (average, May 12). Connecticut: New Haven, May 1. Rhode Island: Providence, May 2. Massachusetts-Amherst, April 22 (1929) ; East Longmeadow, May 7. Vermont: Bennington, May 11. New Hampshire: East Westmoreland, May 8. Maine: Kittery and Falmouth, May 16. Louisiana: Bains, April 4. Mississippi: Bay St. Louis and Oxford, April 11. Arkansas: Helena, April 7 (average, April 20). Tennessee: Nashville, April 16 (average of 12 years, April 21). Kentucky: Eubank, April 19. Mis. souri: Kansas City, April 14. Illinois: Murphysboro, Ap4l 19; Chicago region, May 6 (average, May 16). Indiana: Wheatland and Columbus, April 22. Ohio: hamilton County, April 18; Barnesville, April24 (1929) (average for central Ohio, May 2). Michigan: Kalamazoo, May 2. Ontario: Oshawa, May 5. Iowa: Fairfield and Waubonsie State Park, May 9. Wisconsin: Mazomanie, May 4. Minnesota: Red Wing, May 14. Texas-Victoria, March 15. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, April 5; Tulsa, April 12. Kansas: Manhattan, April 22. Nebraska: Nebraska City, and Dunbar, April 29. South Dakota: Yankton, May 5. North Dakota: Wilton, May 15. Manitoba: Brandon, May 25. Saskatchewan: Skull Creek, May 11. New Mexico: Socorro, May 1. Arizona: Topock, April 11. Cobrado: Lytle, May 6. Utah: Washington County, April 27; Salt Lake, May 8. Wyoming: Guernsey and Torrington, May 10. Idaho: Meridian, May 13. Montana: Kirby, May 16. California: Los Angeles County, April 1; San Francisco Bay region, April 14. Nevada: Vegas Wash, May 3. Oregon: Oswego, Portland, and Eugene area, April 28. Washington: Yakima and Walla Walla, May 4. British Columbia: South Vancouver, May 9.

Late dates of fall departure are: Washington: Touchet, September 12. Oregon: Weston, October 2. Nevada: Indian Springs, Charleston Mountains, September 15. California: Azusa, October 9. Idaho: Moscow, September 10. Wyoming: Careyhurst, September 11. Utah: Uinta Basin, September 25. Colorado: Yurna, September 24. Arizona: Keams Canyon, October 12; San Pedro River, October 15. New Mexico: Apache, September 15. Saskatchewan: East End, August 14. North Dakota: Stutsman County (September 22; Fargo, October 11. South Dakota: Faulkton, October 20. Nebraska: Lincoln, September 26. Kansas: Lawrence, October 23. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, September 17. Texas: Cove, November 10. Wisconsin: Mazomanie, September 3. Iowa: Sioux City, October 2. Michigan: Locke, October 2. Ohio: Hillsboro, October 16; central Ohio, September 22, (average, August 27). Indiana: Bloomington, September 28. Illinois: Murphysboro, September 12. Missouri: Creve Coeur Lake, September 25. Kentucky: Fulton County and Bowling Green, September 23. Tennessee: Elibabethton, October 8. Arkansas: Saline County, September 19. Mississippi: Deer Island, October 19 and 29. Louisiana: Baton Rouge region, October 22, December 28. New Brunswick: Grand Manan, December 1; St. Andrews, December 11. Maine: Seguin Light, October 5; Kittery, December 10. New Hampshire: Boar’s Head, September 19. Massachusetts: Essex County, October 27 (more than 20 November and December records in the past 5 years). Rhode Island: Little Compton, November 12. Connecticut: New Haven County, October 3, November 23; South Norwalk, January 1. New York: Mastic, Long Island, October 31; Jones Beach, Long Island, November 13. New Jersey: Cape May Light, September 29; Long Branch, December 15. Pennsylvania: Renovo, October 2; Norristown, November 28. Delaware: Kent and Sussex Counties, September 30 (average of 18 years, August 30). Maryland: Ocean City, October 5; Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge, November 1. District of Columbia: Washingten, October 4 (average of 8 years, September 19). West. Virginia: Bluefleld, October 6. Virginia: Rockbridge County, October 2; Cape Henry, October 22. North Carolina: Weaverville, October 1; Raleigh, September 19 (average of 8 years, August 8). Georgia: Athens, October 18. Alabama: Birmingham, October 30 (average of 10 years, September 24). Florida: Pensacola, October 12.

Early dates of fall arrival are: California: Azusa, August 31. Mississippi: near Biloxi, August 27. Rhode Island: Block Island, August22. Guatemala: Colomba, Quezaltenango, September 29. Honduras: near Tela, October 7. Nicaragua: Escondido River, October 14. El Salvador: Divisadero, October 10. Costa Rica: San Jos~, October 26.

Egg dates: Arizona: 29 records, April 26 to Aug. 1; 16 records, May 21 to June 9; 7 records, July 15 to 25.

California: 62 records, May 4 to July 13; 32 records, May 13 to June 4, indicating the height of the season.

Georgia: 18 records, May 9 to June 2; 10 records, May 13 to 20.

Pennsylvania: 31 records, May 19 to June 25; 18 records, May 30 to June 12.

Texas: 39 records, April 10 to June 25; 20 records, May 6 to 26 (Harris).


The western race of the yellow-breasted chat is only slightly differentiated from its well-known eastern relative. Ridgway (1902) describes it as “similar to I. v. ‘eiren8, but wing, tail, and bill longer, the tail always, or nearly always, longer than wing, instead of the reverse; upper parts more grayish olive-green, usually more nearly gray than olive-green; white of malar region much more extended, frequently occupying entire malar area; yellow of under parts averaging deeper. ,~ It is well distributed, generally common, and locally abundant over much of North America during the breeding season from the Pacific coast to the Plains, and from British Columbia and extreme southern Saskatchewan to the Mexican plateau. Only within comparatively recent years has the chat been known to breed across the southern boundary in Saskatchewan, south of the Cypress Hills. Although Dr. Bishop, Dr. Dwight, and I did considerable field work in this region and in southern Alberta in 1906, we failed to find it. Some years later, Laurence B. Potter wrote to me: “Since the first discovery of the yellow-breasted chat by Taverner, in 1921, in southwestern Saskatchewan, the species has established itself as a regular, and not uncommon, summer visitant. For twenty years previous to Taverner’s taking the first specimen, I had lived in the same district, watching and hearing birds; but. it was not until 1922, a year later, that I first heard a chat, the male bird of a pair that certainly were nesting. And I feel quite sure the species was, at that time, a newcomer.” Some thirteen years later, Mr. Potter (1935) established the chat as a breeding bird in that vicinity by finding a nest with eggs.

The western yellow-breasted chat, as it is now called, has evidently permanently extended its breeding range slightly north of the international boundary in southwestern Saskatchewan. J. Dewey Soper (1942) writes:

From June 15 to iS, 1941, I camped at the Frenchman River about 200 yards from the International Boundary. The valley here is several miles wide and between 300 and 400 feet deep, the bottom of which is approximately 2,500 feet a. s. I. It exhibits pronounced arid characteristics such as sparse, short-grass cover, an abundance of cacti, broad sagebrush and greasewood flats, rattlesnakes, horned lizards, etc. A few miles up the valley are several towns of the Blacktailed Prairie Dog. The river is bordered by rather extensive and very dense thickets of willows, buckthorn, green ash, wild rose, snowberry, gooseberry and sagebrush. Zonal conditions lean conspicuously to the Upper Sonoran.

No sooner was the locality entered than Long-tailed Chats were heard on every hand. This was at once recognized as an unusual experience. As the bottomland thickets were carefully explored In the days that followed, It was increasingly realized that longicauda was not only common, but actually abundant. * * * I hesitate to express an opinion as to the number of chats in the neighborhood, but they may have totaled between fifty and one hundred. If the former figure should approximately apply (which strikes me as very conservative), then the average would have been about one pair to every 140 yards.

In the Great Basin region, in Nevada, according to Dr. Jean M. Linsdale (1938), “The large, dense thickets of buffalo berry, intertwined with willow and rose provided satisfactory home sites for this bird; in Smoky Valley in favorable stretches of a mile 3 or 4 pairs could be detected. Year after year noises made by this bird came from exactly the same spots. Either these were more suitable than other spots which appeared to be similar, or the birds exhibited an especially strong tendency to return to the same bushes.”

In the Lassen Peak region of California, Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) say that “chats were limited closely to the tangles of tall weeds, brush (willow, rose, blackberry, elder) and grapevines that bordered the lower stream-courses.”

Nesting: The western chat does not seem to differ materially from its eastern relative in its nesting habits, or in any of its other habits.

The nests are usually not over 2 or 3 feet from the ground in thickets of willows, wild rose bushes, or other shrubs, often overgrown with grapevines or other tangles. Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) record one that “was slightly over two Ineters above the ground in a vine that covered a dead tree. A large cottonwood close by furnished shade. The site was about on a level with the top of the undergrowth of willows, weeds, and elders.”

Eggs: The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the eastern chat. The measurements of 50 eggs average 21.8 by 16.6 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 25.4 by 17.8, 20.3 by 19.1, 18.3 by 15.2, and 19.3 by 14.7 millimeters (Harris).

Young: Mrs. Wheelock’s observations (1904) indicate rather rapid feeding by both parents at a nest that she watched:

On one day, which seemed to be a fair average, when the young were eight days old, they were fed twenty times between five and six a.m., eight times between nine and ten a.m., eleven times between three and four p.m., and seventeen times between five and six p.m. For the first four days there was no visible food In the bill of the adult, and the feeding seemed to be by regurgitation. After that, parts of Insects could be seen protruding from his bill, and were given to the young in a fresh state. Beetles, grasshoppers, and butterflies were all in the dietary, and were brought Indiscriminately; but hairless caterpillars seemed to he the favorite food. The adults are said to eat berries, but I saw none brought to the nest for the young.

Behavior: Chat behavior is much the same in the west as in the east, but the following observations on the territorial behavior and daily routine of the long-tailed western chat, by Eric Campbell Kinsey (1934), are of interest:

The usual territorial fights, enforced by breeding birds generally, so far as their own species Is concerned, obtained markedly with the chats. Each breeding pair appeared to stay strictly within its own territory except when there was a general alarm emanating from a particular territory (such as that occasioned by pilfering jays or hawks), when a number of chats would congregate at that spot to aid In driving away the would-be despoilers.

Each chat followed a very definite schedule each day. For example, a certain male would appear at dawn on a particular dead branch some fifty feet up In a cottonwood tree and, after a short song, would then fly down to a definite spot in an adjacent flooded meadow, whereupon satisfying his appetite he would return to the original perch. After remaining there for several minutes, singing, he would repair to a particular branch in the middle of a nearby elderberry bush, drop from there to a certain nettle stalk, cross to the nest where his mate was brooding eggs, and after (presumably) feeding her would again return to the dead branch in the cottonwood. Then he would fly to the irrigation ditch for his early morning plunge, return again to the cottonwood branch, preen and complete his toilet; then down into the meadow for more insects, back to the original cottonwood, again to the elderberry patch, down to the nest, etc. This routine was followed out with little variation throughout the morning. Immediately after mid-day he would descend from the cottonwood to another patch of elderberries on the opposite side and to an adjacent dry meadow where grasshoppers were quite plentiful; then would again return to the cottonwood, from there drop down to the nest, and, after being satisfied that all was as It should be, would once again return to the cottonwood. The same procedure would be followed all during the afternoon, broken only by a bath in the irrigation ditch just before dusk. The nest was situated due east of the cottonwood and It was the eastern part of the territory, upon which the sun shone, that he foraged In the morning. In the afternoon the sun was on the west of the cottonwood and it was the western section of the territory that then received his attention.

This species Is apparently as casual as are hummiaghirds, so far as their mates are concerned. Again, to illustrate, a certain female was trapped late one afternoon whereupon her mate appeared next forenoon with a new female and, on the succeeding day, this pair started constructing a new nest near the site of the old one. On the following day the male was trapped and on the next day what we assumed was the remaining female appeared with a new male and afforded every evidence of mating. This particular pair was located at one of the extreme ends of the territory covered. Another pair was under observation at the other end of the territory, where the male was first trapped; two days later the female appeared with a new mate whereupon she was trapped and, on the following day, the same male appeared with a new female.

Voice: Many writers have referred to chats as mimics; whether the various notes heard from chats are really imitations or are parts of the birds’ own elaborate vocabularies is open to question. However that may be, we have the following list of possible imitations heard by Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930)

Facsimiles that were heard and checked within a few days in late May and early June were as follows: gray squirrel (the “coughing” note) ; young turkey (of which many were herded around the ranch at Dale’s to feed on grasshoppers) willow woodpecker (the high-pitched “whinnying”) ; Bullock oriole (the harsh call-note only) ; crow (the caw, repeated four to six times, or, sometimes, just once, accurately given) ; ash-throated flycatcher (call-note) ; wren-tit (without the terminal trill, but accurate in pitch and timbre: no wren-tits were seen within six miles of this place [Dale’s]) ; Pacific nighthawk (pc-drk, perfectly rendered) ; California jay (one of the staccato calls) ; Stelter jay (a staccato note) ; flicker (the kuk-kuk-kuk note) ; yellow-billed magpie (perfect, though magpies were not found by us in the near neighborhood) ; meadow-lark (a call-note) ; slender-billed nuihatch (yank, loud nasal note) ; robin (cluck-cluck, note of mild alarm).

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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