Yellow-Breasted Chat

Icteria virens
Range Map

The Yellow-Breasted Chat seems more ‘oriole-like’ than ‘warbler-like’. Their breeding habitat is dense brushy areas and hedgerows. They breed throughout North America, from the southern-plains in Canada to central Mexico during the summer. They mainly migrate to Mexico and Central America, although some of their number may overwinter in coastal areas.

This species is no longer classified as a warbler (family Parulidae). In 2017 science moved the Yellow-Breasted Chat to its own family (Icteriidae), where it is the only species recognised in this newly created family group.

There are two subspecies of Yellow-Breasted Chat:

  • I. v. virens breeds in eastern North America from the eastern Great Plains and central Texas to the Atlantic coast. They spend winters from central Tamaulipas through the Yucatán peninsula, and south through Central America.
  • I. v. auricollis breeds in the west from the western Great Plains as far north as south-central Canada, and from Texas westward. They spend winters from Baja California, Sinaloa, Texas south to southwestern Mexico and northern Central America.

The vocal style of this bird has to be one of the strangest in the avian world. Their so-called song is a mixture of beeps, whistles, squawks and rattles that almost defy description. I think their calls might be a rich source of backup alarm sounds for large vehicles. I’m sure anyone who’s heard this bird will know what I mean.

Hearing the strange calls of these birds doesn’t always ensure a meeting. More than once I’ve heard their unmistakable songs, but was unsuccessful in getting my eyes on them. I’ve been lucky to find Yellow-Breasted Chats near my home in San Diego County (California), in Idaho on the Snake River, in Arizona on the Colorado River (and other locations), and in New Mexico on the Rio Grande. While I attended spring migration on South Padre Island (Texas) in 2021, I enjoyed meeting migrating birds, but those birds were silent, and did not bless us with a concert.

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