Yellow-Breasted Chat

Photo of a yellow-breasted chat perched on a small branch
Scientific Name
Icteria virens
Parulidae (wood-warblers) in the order Passeriformes

The upperparts of the yellow-breasted chat are greenish brown, or you could call it olive gray. There are white “spectacles” around the eye and on the upper and lower margins of the lores (the zone between the eye and the upper base of the beak). The lores are black in males and gray in females. Adult underparts are bright yellow to intense orange on the throat and breast. Belly and under tail feathers are white. Tail long; bill heavy. This is our largest warbler. The song competes with that of the northern mockingbird for variety and duration, but with longer pauses between phrases. Chats sit on high perches to sing, uttering a wide variety of mews, chats, whistles, and stutters. Often they fly up into the air and descend with their wings slowly flapping, touching at top and bottom of each stroke, with legs dangling below. Call is a sharp chat or tschat.

Length: 7½ inches. Our largest warbler.
Where To Find
Yellow-Breasted Chat Distribution Map
This warbler typically skulks low in dense thickets and shrubs, brush piles, old fields, forest edges, and thick blackberry patches. Singing males may be visible in an exposed perch, but generally yellow-breasted chats are secretive and hard to see. Listen, then look for them during breeding season.
Yellow-breasted chats eat a wide variety of insects and spiders, which they pick from the leaves of the dense thickets and shrubs where they prefer to reside. They often grasp a food item with their feet. They sometimes also eat succulent fruits such as blackberries, elderberries, wild grapes, and blueberries.
Common summer resident in southern Missouri; uncommon in far northwestern Missouri. The yellow-breasted chat is an oddball among the New World warbler family, being so much larger than the others, having a mockingbird-like song repertoire, and differing in other ways. It is the sole member of its genus, and many biologists have wondered if it truly belongs in the same family as the other warblers.
Life Cycle
Present in Missouri from late April through mid-September. Bulky cup nests are built by the female from a variety of plant fibers, leaves, and stems, and are positioned among the branches of dense shrubs and thickets, some 1–8 feet off the ground. Clutches comprise 3–6 eggs, which are incubated 10–12 days. After hatching, the young remain in the nest another 7–10 days. There can be 1 or 2 broods. Wintering range extends from coastal Mexico to Panama. A yellow-breasted chat can live to be at least 11 years old.
Human alterations of the landscape have affected the populations of this thicket, forest-edge-dwelling bird. In the early 20th century, logging and agriculture activities increased this habitat, and the chat populations increased, too. In the second half of the 20th century, forests regrew and large-scale agriculture reduced the amount of shrubby places, leading to a decline in chat populations.
Chats and other thicket-dwelling insectivores limit the populations of insects, limiting their impact on blackberry, elderberry, hawthorn, sumac, and other shrubs. This is one of the many birds that can be parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the nests of other species.
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Similar Species
About Birds in Missouri

About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.