Described as an “aberrant warbler” by Roger Tory Peterson, the Yellow-breasted Chat is an odd example of a North American wood warbler – twice as large as most, with a stout bill more like a vireo’s. Debate continues about whether the chat is in fact a warbler or something else altogether.
Whatever it may be, its song, sometimes heard at night, is as distinctive as the bird itself: a bizarre collection of cackles, clucks, whistles, and hoots. P.A. Taverner, a Canadian ornithologist, describes the bird perfectly:
“With his stealthy elusiveness, wild outpourings of song and fund of vituperation, the Chat is a droll imp . . . He is full of life and boiling over with animation. It bubbles out of his throat in all manner of indescribable sounds. He laughs dryly, gurgles derisively, whistles triumphantly, chatters provokingly, and chuckles complacently, all in one breath.”
The male Yellow-breasted Chat has a distinctive display flight, hovering above its brushy haunts with slow, deep-flapping wings and dangling feet, often while singing its unique song. The Chat is more often heard than seen, however, as it tends to be a shy and skulking species.
Since the Yellow-breasted Chat is a bird of successional habitats, it has declined in the east as farmlands and pastures disappear, revert to forests, or are developed for human use. Collisions with wind turbines and brood parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbirds are other threats to this species.