Yellow-breasted Chat

Icteria virens


Infrequently Seen

Yellow-breasted Chats nest in the Washington metro area, but they are extremely uncommon at Monticello Park. Only one was seen in the spring between 2005 and 2017.

Where to See Them in the Park

There is no best place to see Yellow-breasted Chats at Monticello. The park is small and does not have open areas near thickets that the species prefers.

Physical Description


Yellow-breasted Chat at Banding Station
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

The throat and breast of the Yellow-breasted Chat are bright yellow, and when a male is singing in bright sunlight, the throat can appear orange. The back is olive with no wingbars, and the bill is large like a blackbird's bill. The male's lores (feathers between the bill and the eye) are black, and there is a white line over the eye. Females look like males, except the lores are gray rather than black.

Yellow-breasted Chat at Banding Station
Male at banding station - Photo by William Young

In 2017, the bird banding station at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge captured what was probably a second-year male Yellow-breasted Chat. Second-year warblers generally do not molt their flight and tail feathers until after the breeding season. Birds with worn tail and wing feathers were probably born the previous year. The wing and tail feathers on the Occoquan chat were very worn.

Yellow-breasted Chat at Banding Station
Male - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Vocalizations

The song of the Yellow-breasted Chat is a lazy combination of squeaks and squawks, reminiscent of a Northern Mockingbird.

Hear the song of the Yellow-breasted Chat.

Notes

Ornithologists now agree with birders who have long wondered why the relatively large Yellow-breasted Chat was included among the relatively small New World warblers. It looks like the type of species a warbler might try to feed if its nest has been parasitized by a larger bird. The chat also does not have a song like any of the other wood warblers. Yellow-breasted Chats are in the genus Icteria. The New World blackbirds are in the family Icteridae, and some ornithologists thought the chat should be moved to that family. In 2017, the American Ornithological Society decided to establish a separate family for the Yellow-breasted Chat, with no other members. The chat is now considered more closely related to the Scarlet Tanager than to either the warblers or the New World Blackbirds. Confusion about where the chat should be classified is nothing new. In 1759, Carl Linnaeus gave the species the scientific name Turdus virens, with Turdus being the genus of the American Robin.

Origin of Names

Common Name: Yellow-breasted from the plumage. Chat from its chattering vocalizations. Unrelated birds in other parts of the world are called chats for the same reason.
Genus Name: Icteria means "jaundice", from the yellow plumage.
Species Name: Virens means "green", from the olive back.

Yellow-breasted Chat video footage

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