Yellow-breasted Chat: A Warbler Reclassified

July 16, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest of our warblers.  At least it was our largest warbler.  After writing the original version of this blog I found out the warbler classification of the Yellow-breasted Chat is in jeopardy because of several changes being proposed by the the American Ornithological Society's North and Middle American Classification Committee.  Here is a partial quote from the proposal.  "The Yellow-breasted Chat is no longer part of the wood-warbler family, Parulidae, and gets its own family Icteriidae, not be confused with the blackbird family Icteridae."  Well, the change is official and if you care to read about it, you can here.

Regardless of its classification, the Yellow-breasted Chat is a pretty cool bird.  If you hope to see one, you better look in the spring while the male is singing for a mate or protecting his territory because they are fairly quiet the rest of the summer.

Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

As you can see in the range map below, the chat is a widespread breeder across North America and they migrate all the way into Central America for the winter.  On their breeding grounds during the summer months, they prefer shrubby thickets and other dense habitats. 

YellowBreastedChatRangeMapYellowBreastedChatRangeMap Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

I would like to describe their calls but I cannot say it better than the description on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  Here is their description: "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".

Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

One of the fun moments of bird photography is when the bird sits on a branch for an extended period of time and preens.  The preening session usually ends with a total body fluff-up like this male is doing in the next photograph.  Notice the black coloration in the region between the eye and the nostrils?  That area is called the lores.  A male chat has black lores and the female has gray lores. Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

I mentioned earlier in this blog that the chat is the largest of all warblers.  They are large and bulky compared to other warblers and they have a long tail, large head and a thick, heavy bill.

Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

Although the Yellow-breasted Chat's population has declined in parts of the southwest, their population is mostly stable.  As more eastern forests are being cleared to create brushy habitat, their population has been increasing.  Keep in mind when I refer to "forests being cleared" I don't mean for urban development.  That doesn't help their population at all.  Clearing forests is a good thing when old growth is logged out creating habitat for many birds that prefer new-growth areas.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


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