Thursday, October 2, 2014

Yellow-breasted Chat

This Yellow-breasted Chat was the highlight of our stop at the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. As we walked through the cedars along the loop, I heard a unfamiliar bird song. I am not sure why I would recognize it as a chat, since male chats have song repertoires of around 62 song types. Chats often mimic other species’ calls (e.g., robins, buntings, vireos, kingfishers and yellowlegs) (Eckerle and Thompson 2001). Chat songs are given, however, at a relatively low frequency, which may have been what tipped me off.

I banded this large warbler annually in South Dakota, but never photographed one. Ornithologists have long argued just what a Yellow-breasted Chat is—the bird seems too big to be a warbler. The songs are far more varied than in other warblers. The behavior and some anatomical features differ from typical warblers. Genetic data, however, support the chat’s being an atypical but definite warbler.

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