Yellow-breasted chats are large songbird, and are the New World warbler family's most atypical member. In the spring the male delivers a fluid cascade of whistles, chuckles, cackles and gurgles. For the remainder of the year the birds are rarely seen or heard, both males and females skulking silently within the shadows of thickets, gleaning berries and insects and berries. This species is North America's largest warbler, and perhaps the strangest, being like a cross between a mockingbird and a warbler.
Yellow-breasted chats breed across the eastern United States and southern Canada, from New York to Iowa and south to Texas and North Florida. They winter in Central America and Mexico. They inhabit bush and dense thickets in dry open habitats, around riparian areas, wood edges, and in overgrown clearings resulting from vegetative growth in forest openings created by fire or storms, or in abandoned fields.
Habits and lifestyle
This species is diurnal, shy and solitary, heard more often than seen, moving furtively among vegetation. They seek dense cover for searching for insects and also for nest cover. These birds use songs as their main source of communication. If females are present, males tend to sing to one another. They sing at night, often mimicking other birds. Their repertoire ranges from 41 to 100 types of song. A male will share his songs, which allows for matched counter singing, where a male sings a certain song and another male replies with the same song. The songs communicate territorial interactions and determine dominance. A Yellow-breasted chat sings more during the preparation period than during incubation and the post-fledging period.
Diet and nutrition
This mating system of this species ranges from monogamy (where one male mates with one female only), being the most common, to polygynandry (promiscuous), where males and females both have multiple mates. During the courtship period, the male sings from a perch that is exposed, and does a hovering display flight, his head raised and his legs extended toward the ground, singing a complex song at the same time. He will hover and then drop back to his perch. These birds breed from May until July. They sometimes nest in loose colonies, though with separate territories, and they may produce two broods in a season. The nest is a cup made from weeds, dry leaves and grapevine bark, located in a tangle of vines or a small bush, built by the female. 3 to 5 eggs are laid, which are creamy or white, smooth and glossy, speckled with purple or reddish. Incubation is for around 11 to 12 days, by the female. Chicks are altricial when they hatch, and both parents feed them. They fledge at around 8 to 11 days old. Once they leave the nest, the chicks remain nearby until able to forage on their own.
Yellow-breasted chats are threatened by habitat loss, by the clearing of lowland riparian woods and thickets for agriculture, residential and commercial development.
According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Yellow-breasted chat is around 12 million individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, the total population of the species is 13 million individuals, of which 90% spend part of their year in the U.S., with 50% in Mexico. Overall, currently Yellow-breasted chats are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today remain stable.
Fun facts for kids
- This species was first described by Carolus Linnaeus, in 1758, a Swedish physician, botanist and zoologist.
- The Yellow red-orange breast and throat plumage of these birds reflects strongly under ultraviolet light, curving with two peaks of ultraviolet and 570 to 590 nm of yellow light in the spectrum, representing a kind of visual communication.
- This bird has a unique behavior, scratching on the ground and holding food in its feet before eating it.
- Brown-headed cowbirds often will lay their eggs in the nests of Yellow-breasted chats. This sometimes causes a breeding pair to desert the nest, while other pairs will accept the cowbird egg, raising the chick as if it were their own.