Birds – Yellow-breasted Chat

(Icteria virens) Wood Warbler family


Length—7.5 inches. A trifle over an inch longer than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Uniform olive-green above. Throat, breast, and under side of wings bright, clear yellow. Underneath white. Sides grayish. White line over the eye, reaching to base of bill and forming partial eye-ring. Also white line on sides of throat. Bill and feet black.

Range—North America, from Ontario to Central America and westward to the plains. Most common in Middle Atlantic States.

Migrations—Early May. Late August or September. Summer resident.

This largest of the warblers might be mistaken for a dozen birds collectively in as many minutes; but when it is known that the jumble of whistles, parts of songs, chuckles, clucks, barks, quacks, whines, and wails proceed from a single throat, the yellow-breasted chat becomes a marked specimen forthwith—a conspicuous individual never to be confused with any other member of the feathered tribe. It is indeed absolutely unique. The catbird and the mocking-bird are rare mimics; but while the chat is not their equal in this respect, it has a large repertoire of weird, uncanny cries all its own—a power of throwing its voice, like a human ventriloquist, into unexpected corners of the thicket or meadow. In addition to its extraordinary vocal feats, it can turn somersaults and do other clown-like stunts as well as any variety actor on the Bowery stage.

Only by creeping cautiously towards the roadside tangle, where this “rollicking polyglot ” is entertaining himself and his mate, brooding over her speckled eggs in a bulky nest set in a most inaccessible briery part of the thicket, can you hope to hear him rattle through his variety performance. Walk boldly or noisily past his retreat, and there is “silence there and nothing more.” But two very bright eyes peer out at you through the undergrowth, where the trim, elegant-looking bird watches you with quizzical suspicion until you quietly seat yourself and assume silent indifference. ” Whew, whew ! ” he begins, and then immediately, with evident intent to amuse, he rattles off an indescribable, eccentric medley until your ears are tired listening. With bill uplifted, tail drooping, wings fluttering at his side, he cuts an absurd figure enough, but not so comical as when he rises into the air, trailing his legs behind him stork-fashion. This surely is the clown among birds. But zany though he is, he is as capable of devotion to his Columbine as Punchinello, and re-mains faithfully mated year after year. However much of a tease and a deceiver he may be to the passer-by along the roadside, in the privacy of the domestic circle he shows truly lovable traits.

He has the habit of singing in his unmusical way on moon-light nights. Probably his ventriloquial powers are cultivated not for popular entertainment, but to lure intruders away from his nest.