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Yellow-breasted Chats in New York

Posted on Jun 15, 2014

Earlier today I uploaded this video of a notorious skulker, the Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens), to our YouTube Channel.

The bird was foraging for prey in dense brush and thickets. This behavior is typical of the often hidden species. While it is not necessarily shy – this individual feeling comfortable enough to feed as I filmed shows that much – it certainly knows how to stay out of sight for the most part.

Yellow-breasted Chat 1

Yellow-breasted Chat 2

Yellow-breasted Chat 3

It made me ponder the current status of the species as a whole in Western New York and the surrounding region. Back in Connecticut I actually saw several Yellow-breasted Chats over the last few years in my coastal hometown. They ended up in predictable spots from lots with tree stumps and roots to dense brush and shrubs, even right along the water. However, these were migrants and the species as a whole is decreasing through the state.

New York seems to be the same comparing these maps from the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas.

ybch (1)


When I looked up the eBird map of the species I saw a sizable hole in the Chautauqua-Allegheny region for birds of any kind, let alone breeders.

Yellow-breasted Chat eBird all-time map

I believe this is a combination of their secretive nature in low population areas, loss of secondary growth, shrub and riparian zones, and being on the northern border of their range. But that is just it – this northern border used to be more north, if you follow me, and when climate change is allowing birds to expand that direction the Yellow-breasted Chat seems to be moving south. It may be all habitat based as New York grows back into forests but to me this is a question without a certain answer.

We have a number of birds decreasing or losing parts of their range – others include the Henslow’s Sparrow or Rusty Blackbird – that are all very different and all with a myriad of possible explanations for their losses. I think, sadly enough, that may be the answer as a select few North American birds have too many cards stacked against them to be successful at this point in human evolution. When the answer to a decline may be that it is something of everything then we have a heck of a lot of work to do to even begin to help this selection of our birds.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator