This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the yellow-breasted chat.
Listening to this bird can’t help but put a smile on your face. Ornithologist Arthur Bent described it as the “elusive clown among birds.” Its unmusical song includes cackles, clucks, whistles, hoots and other strange noises. It is the mockingbird of dense undergrowth during breeding season, quiet and secretive the rest of the year.
It is easiest to spot in spring when the male establishes breeding territory by singing from a high perch and then bouncing through the air with feet extended, all the while singing its unusual song. Most of the time here it is a bird heard but not seen.
The yellow-breasted chat is much larger than our other summer warblers. With a long tail, big head and heavy bill, it is olive-green above with a lemon yellow chin, throat and breast, and a white belly. It wears white spectacles and a white mustache on its gray face. Except for subtle differences, both sexes look alike.
The yellow-breasted chat breeds across North America in dense shrubbery. In the west, this bird is usually found in riparian habitats with low, impenetrable vegetation. Its winter range includes Mexico and south through Central America. Its penchant to hide in dense, tangled habitats makes it a difficult bird to study and information about its habits is incomplete.
In summer, the chat eats insects and spiders. Later in the year, wild fruits and berries, particularly blackberries, strawberries and grapes, can make up half of its diet. This bird is reported in our area between early May and mid-August. Has it left by then or just returned to its quiet, secretive ways?
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