Icteria virensyellow-breasted chat

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Geographic Range

Yellow-breasted chats (Icteria virens) have a very broad geographic range. During the breeding season, they extend from southern Canada to Mexico, in southern Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the United States. In the winter seasons, they range from southern Baja California, to southern Texas, and south to western Panama. In the eastern United States, their range includes northeastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, and eastern Texas. They are also native to southeastern British Columbia. Yellow-breasted chats migrate from southern Mexico, Central America, and to the Atlantic coast each fall. (Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Mays, et al., 2004; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010)

Habitat

Yellow-breasted chats are found in dense deciduous and coniferous forests. For example, they are found in shrubby and brushy habitats along streams, swamps, forest edges, regenerating burned forests, and upland thickets of recently abandoned farmlands. They live in flowering dogwood, red cedar, and sumac trees. They also occupy fields and fencerows. Gullies, wetlands, and orchards provide shelter and food for this species. They can be found from 250 to 800 m in elevation. (Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Mays, et al., 2004; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010)

  • Range elevation
    250 to 800 m
    820.21 to 2624.67 ft

Physical Description

Yellow-breasted chats are approximately 18.0 cm in length. Males have a wingspan range of 74 to 81 mm, while females have a wingspan range of 72 to 76 mm. Despite the difference in wingspan, females (22.6 to 30.9 g) weigh more than males (22.2 to 29.5 g). Yellow-breasted chats have a yellow-orange chin and throat. These colors, plus their breast plumage reflect strongly on ultraviolet light. This reflection exhibits curves with two peaks on the ultraviolet and 570 to 590 nm of yellow light of the spectrum. Their faces are grayish with white eye-crescents on the lower eyelids. During the breeding season, males and females have solid black bills, but they can have small, light stripes or dots on either side of their lower mandible toward the base of their bill. As breeding season comes to an end, these stripes widen and begin to take over the solid black bill. Males and females have black foreheads and the facial markings behind their eyes fade to gray and black. As the season passes, the males lose a great amount of facial color. In juvenile chats, their upper bodies are dull grayish or olive brown and they have olive brown wings and tails. Likewise, their chin and throat are dull white with a little splash of yellow. One of the subspecies of yellow-breasted chats, Icteria virens auricollis, has a larger tail, wing span, and bill measurements. (Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Mays, et al., 2004; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    22.2 to 30.9 g
    0.78 to 1.09 oz
  • Average length
    18.0 cm
    7.09 in
  • Range wingspan
    72 to 81 mm
    2.83 to 3.19 in

Reproduction

The mating system of yellow-breasted chats ranges from monogamy, which is the most common, to successive monogamy and occasional polygynandry. Male quality is determined by size, past reproductive success, and song repertoire. Specifically, males with longer wing chords fledge more young. Older males also have a greater tarsus length, which is correlated to song repertoire size. Because male chats spend less time singing after pairing with females, singing likely plays a major role in mate attraction. Singing by males also serves as a territorial defense and attracting additional mates. Singing might function to solicit extra-pair paternity or copulations from neighboring females. Yellow-breasted chats respond belligerently to playback songs of conspecific males and display flights accompanied by songs that occur during territorial disputes; this demonstrates that songs maintain territory boundaries. As a result, males who sang more often and at different pitches defended their mates and territories better than males who didn’t sing at different pitches and sang less often. (Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Dussourd and Ritchison, 2003; Ficken and Ficken, 1962; Mino, et al., 2011; Morgan, et al., 2007; Ritchison, 1988; Thompson and Nolan, 1973)

Territory size for breeding yellow-breasted chats and nest success differs among populations. Chats breed in many habitats, but they are commonly found breeding in riparian habitats. In these habitats, they use wild rose as nesting substrate and forage. Nest success is higher in contiguous habitats than in isolated habitats. In a single breeding area, 5 to 8 males breed with 5 to 10 females. Yellow-breasted chats breed once a year around the warmer seasons. Around the last two weeks of May, females begin building round open-nests, which are found 2.5 m above the ground. Nests consist of grasses, leaves, bark, and pine needles. Eggs are laid through July. Males arrive on the breeding grounds days before females, but females build the nest, which consists of carrying the nesting materials. Females lay 3 to 6 eggs per clutch, with an 11-day incubation period. On average, the young reach the fledging stage 9 days after hatching. After the young leave the nest, they remain nearby until they are able to forage for themselves. Once they are independent from their parents, yellow-breasted chats disperse from the nesting area. (Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Dussourd and Ritchison, 2003; Ficken and Ficken, 1962; Mino, et al., 2011; Morgan, et al., 2007; Ritchison, 1988; Thompson and Nolan, 1973; Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Dussourd and Ritchison, 2003; Ficken and Ficken, 1962; Mino, et al., 2011; Morgan, et al., 2007; Ritchison, 1988; Thompson and Nolan, 1973; Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Dussourd and Ritchison, 2003; Ficken and Ficken, 1962; Mino, et al., 2011; Morgan, et al., 2007; Ritchison, 1988; Thompson and Nolan, 1973)

  • Breeding interval
    Yellow-breasted chats breed once a year around the warmer seasons.
  • Breeding season
    Yellow-breasted chats breed from May to July.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average time to hatching
    11 days
  • Average fledging age
    9 days

Male and female chats feed nestlings at rates that do not vary with brood size. As the nestlings mature, they are fed different prey, starting with insects, then adding berries and a greater amount of prey. Parents bring small or medium-sized prey, about the size of their beaks, back to their nestlings. However, as nestlings age, parents bring prey that is twice the size of their beaks. Males and females both bring similar prey species. While males and females feed the young, females spend more time brooding the nestlings. As the nestlings get older, females decrease the amount of time they spend brooding them. Nesting success is lower in nests where only one adult provides for the nestlings. If both parents care for their young, it improves reproductive success and maintains a monogamous mating bond. (Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Dussourd and Ritchison, 2003; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010; Mino, et al., 2011; Morgan, et al., 2007; Thompson and Nolan, 1973)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male

Lifespan/Longevity

The maximum longevity for yellow-breasted chats is 8.9 years in the wild. These birds have not been studied in captivity. (Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Kathleen, 1983; Terres, 1980)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8.9 years

Behavior

Yellow-breasted chats are a diurnal, social species. In the breeding season, their songs are low-pitched with more diverse phrases. They sing at night, and often mimic other bird sounds. Their repertoires range from 41 to 100 song types. Males share their songs, which permits matched counter singing. This means that one male sings a particular song and another male responds with the same song. These songs convey territorial interactions and establish dominance. Yellow-breasted chats sing more during the preparing period than during the incubation and post-fledging period. Males spend more time singing during the post-paring and pre-nesting period than the post-fledging period. In addition, adult chats leave their complete molt near the breeding grounds, while young chats scatter their complete molt. (Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Dussourd and Ritchison, 2003; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010; Mino, et al., 2011; Morgan, et al., 2007; Thompson and Nolan, 1973)

  • Range territory size
    400.00 to 13000 m^2

Home Range

Yellow-breasted chats have a summer home range that is larger than their territory. For example, in a Sacramento Valley riparian area, 10 birds were found per 40 ha (100 ac). As for their actual territory, 28 territories averaging 1.3 ha (3.1 ac) were reported in an abandoned Indiana field. Territories averaging 0.12 ha (0.3 ac), and varying from 0.04 to 0.28 ha (0.1 to 0.7 ac) have been reported in an Illinois swamp thicket. Territories varying from 0.5 to 1.0 ha (1.25 to 2.5 ac) have likewise been reported in abandoned fields and fencerows in Virginia. (Brewer, 1955; Dennis, 1958; Gaines, 1974; Thompson and Nolan, 1973)

Communication and Perception

Yellow-breasted chats use songs as their primary source of communication. When males are in the presence of females, they tend to sing to each other. Males sing more often than females during the breeding season. Males are advanced learners as they can mimic many sounds like car alarms, musical melodies, any type of human-made sound, and other bird calls. Outside of breeding season, they are usually a quiet species, which can make them difficult to detect because they rarely sing in the open. “Cheow” is a sound yellow-breasted chats produce when both sexes are protecting their offspring. Their sounds or calls are similar to a whistle, gurgle, chuckle, grunt, cat call, or rattle. Yellow-breasted chats possess a yellow red-orange throat and breast plumage that reflect strongly under ultraviolet light. This reflection exhibits curves with two peaks on the ultraviolet and 570 to 590 nm of yellow light of the spectrum. This represents a type of visual communication. (Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Mays, et al., 2004; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010)

Food Habits

Adult yellow-breasted chats feed on small invertebrates, grasshoppers, fruits, and berries. Their offspring are usually fed moth and butterfly larvae. They are proficient at grabbing and eating food with their feet, consuming beetles, weevils, bees, caterpillars, and wasps. They also engulf fruits like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. (Cooper and Ritchison, 2005; Dennis, 1958; Dulisse, et al., 2005; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Mays, et al., 2004; McKibbin and Bishop, 2010)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

Predation

As an open-nested species, nest predation is the major cause of nest failure in yellow-breasted chats. Yellow-breasted chats singing near the nest can attract visual and auditory predators, which prey upon eggs and nestlings. When nests are destroyed by predators, females usually build another one near a neighboring male, or in other cases, they might flee the area and not return. If they don’t return, another female fills the space. Common predators of yellow-breasted chats include western scrub-jays, Virginia opossums, gopher snakes, Argentine ants, dusky-footed woodrats, raccoons, and in rare cases, coyotes. (Burhans and Thompson, 1999; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001; Peterson, et al., 2004; Thompson and Nolan, 1973)

Ecosystem Roles

A high rate of parasitism comes with large nest patches in yellow-breasted chats. Bronzed cowbirds, black-billed cuckoos, and brown-headed cowbirds are the most common nest parasites. Brown-headed cowbirds watch the nest building activities of yellow-breasted chats in order to lay their eggs with the existing yellow-breasted chat eggs. They tend to lay their eggs around the same nesting cycle or period, but they can lay their eggs during any stage of development as well. Brown-headed cowbird’s eggs look very similar to yellow-breasted chat eggs due to the similar dotted patterns; therefore, they are less likely to boot the cowbird eggs out of their nest. As a result of parasitism, brown-headed cowbirds are the leading cause of nest and fledging failure for yellow-breast chats. Cowbird traps, which are effective, are valuable tools to reduce the failure of host nests. (Lowther, 1979; Morrison and Averill-Murray, 2002)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In a 1980 survey of those who supported non-consumptive wildlife uses (i.e., wildlife watching rather than hunting or fishing), 27.8% of respondents purchased birdseed in the previous year, and 6.4% bought birdfeeders. Across the United States in 1980, more than 25 million people purchased birdseed, spending over $517 million dollars. Over $20 million was spent on birdhouses. Purchases like these support songbirds like yellow-breasted chats, which may visit feeders. (Mangun and Shaw, 1984)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of yellow-breasted chats on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, yellow-breasted chats are of “least concern.” This means they are not listed as threatened, vulnerable, or endangered. The population is considered stable and no active conservation programs are in place for this bird. (BirdLife International, 2012; Eckerle and Thompson, 2001)

Contributors

Darius Brown (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

choruses

to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
duets

to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

mimicry

imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

BirdLife International, 2012. "Icteria virens" (On-line). IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Accessed April 04, 2014 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22722057/0.

Bleitz, D. 1959. Yellow-breasted chat parasitized by tick. The Wilson Bulletin, 71/1: 95.

Brewer, R. 1955. Size of home range in eight bird species in a southern Illinois swamp-thicket. The Wilson Bulletin, 67/2: 140-141.

Burhans, D., F. Thompson. 1999. Habitat patch size and nesting success of yellow-breasted chats. The Wilson Bulletin, 111/2: 210-215.

Cooper, S., G. Ritchison. 2005. Nestling provisioning by male and female yellow-breasted chats: No relationships between morphology and parental care/ (machos y hembras de Icteria virens como proveedores: No hay relacion entre la morfologia y el cuidado parental). Journal of Field Ornithology, 76/3: 298-302.

Dennis, J. 1967. Fall departure of the yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens) in eastern North America. Bird-Banding, 38/2: 130-135.

Dennis, J. 1958. Some aspects of the breeding ecology of the yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens). Bird-Banding, 29/3: 169-183.

Dulisse, J., S. Ogle, M. Machmer. 2005. First nest record for yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens auricollis) in southeastern British Columbia. Northwestern Naturalist, 86/3: 160-162.

Dussourd, N., G. Ritchison. 2003. Singing behavior of male yellow-breasted chats: Repertoires, rates, reproductive success, and a comparison with other wood-warblers. The Wilson Bulletin, 115/1: 52-57.

Eckerle, K., C. Thompson. 2001. Yellow-breasted chat. The Birds of North America Online, 575: N/A. Accessed February 07, 2014 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/575/articles/introduction.

Ficken, M., R. Ficken. 1962. Some aberrant characters of the yellow-breasted chat, Icteria virens. The Auk, 79/4: 718-719.

Gaines, D. 1974. A new look at the nesting riparian avifauna of the Sacramento Valley, California. West Birds, 61-80: 5.

Kathleen, K. 1983. Longevity records of North American birds: Remizidae through Parulidae. Journal of Field Ornithology, 54: 287-294.

Lowther, P. 1979. Nest selection by brown-headed cowbirds. The Wilson Bulletin, 91/1: 118-122.

Mangun, W., W. Shaw. 1984. Alternative mechanisms for funding nongame wildlife conservation. Public Administration Review, 44/5: 407-413.

Mays, H., K. McGraw, G. Ritchison, S. Cooper, V. Rush, R. Parker. 2004. Sexual dichromatism in the yellow-breasted chat Icteria virens: Spectrophotometric analysis and biochemical basis. Journal of Avian Biology, 35/2: 125-134.

McKibbin, R., C. Bishop. 2010. Habitat characterization of breeding territories of the western yellow-breasted chat in the South Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada. Northwestern Naturalist, 91/2: 145-156.

Mino, C., I. Pollet, C. Bishop, M. Russello. 2011. Genetic mating system and population history of the endangered western yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens auricollis) in British Columbia, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 89/10: 881-892.

Morgan, T., C. Bishop, T. Williams. 2007. Yellow-breasted chat and gray catbird productivity in a fragmented western riparian system. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 119/3: 494-498.

Morrison, M., A. Averill-Murray. 2002. Evaluating the efficacy of manipulating cowbird parasitism on host nesting success. The Southwestern Naturalist, 47/2: 236-243.

Peterson, B., B. Kus, D. Deutschman. 2004. Determining nest predators of the least Bell's vireo through point counts, tracking stations, and video photography / determinación de los depredadores de los nidos de vireo bellii pusillus attravés de conteos de punto, estaciones de muestreo y videos. Journal of Field Ornithology, 75/1: 89-95.

Ritchison, G. 1988. Responses of yellow-breasted chats to the songs of neighboring and non-neighboring conspecifics (respuesta de lcteria virens al canto de conespecificos vecinales y no-vecinales). Journal of Field Ornithology, 59/1: 37-42.

Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Knopf.

Thompson, C., V. Nolan. 1973. Population biology of the yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens L.) in southern Indiana. Ecological Monographs, 43/2: 145-171.