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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of An adult yellow-breasted chat.Zoom+ An adult yellow-breasted chat. © Hannah Meddaugh (

Yellow-breasted chat

Icteria virens

Species Group: Bird

Conservation Status

State: Special Concern (Breeding)



The yellow-breasted chat is a medium-sized songbird and is considered to be the largest wood-warbler. They are robustly built with a heavy bill and a long tail. As their name implies, they have a bright yellow chest and throat with a white belly and underside of the tail. Their backs are olive-green and they have white spectacles.

Males and females are very similar and have very little seasonal change. Juveniles lack the bright yellow coloring and have dusky spotting on their throats and chests. Yellow-breasted chats are not commonly mistaken for other species because of their large size. Chats are typically quiet and are often difficult to detect amidst dense vegetation. Males do, however, have a distinct courtship call in the breeding season and can then be identified by their calls.

Image of Range of the yellow-breasted chat in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the yellow-breasted chat in New Jersey.


Throughout much of New Jersey, the yellow-breasted chat can be found breeding during the spring and summer months. New Jersey is considered to be the northeastern-most breeding range for the yellow-breasted chat. Although they do breed here, suitable habitat is considered limited and they are absent from the Pine Barrens and the barrier islands of eastern New Jersey.

Outside of New Jersey, the yellow-breasted chat has a large breeding range in North America and are fairly common in most areas. Their overall population is relatively stable. They winter in Central America from Mexico to Panama with some individuals wintering in the southern United States.

The yellow-breasted chat is a habitat specialist preferring low, dense deciduous forests and coniferous vegetation. This includes early second-growth forests, abandoned agriculture fields, power-line corridors, and near streams, ponds and swamps. While nesting, they look for bushes, briar tangles, and vines in dense vegetation. They prefer dense vegetation for protection from predators such as snakes, blue jays, and chipmunks.


During summer, the yellow-breasted chat feeds on small invertebrates. They pick insects and spiders from foliage and usually hold prey in their foot when flying. When fruits and berries are available, they are particularly fond of them. In winter, their main foods are small invertebrates and fruit. They typically forage in low, dense shrubs, and thickets.


Yellow-breasted chats arrive individually at their breeding grounds in late April and May. Males arrive first, attracting females with a short, awkward song during courtship flight. Females initiate nest building and complete the nest shortly after pairing with a male. Pairs are monogamous during breeding. However, they have low site fidelity so pairs usually only last one season.

Nests are a bulky cup of grasses, leaves, and bark lined with fine grasses. The female lays a 3-5 egg clutch in May and possibly into July if her first nest fails. Eggs are white or off-white in color and are covered in dark speckles. The female incubates for 11-15 days. When the young hatch, both adults tend to them. Yellow-breasted chat fledglings leave the nest between 8-11 days of age. Juveniles are sexually mature in 1 year.


In New Jersey, the yellow-breasted chat is listed as a species of Special Concern. Population trends vary, but declines are evident in their eastern range. Threats to this species include habitat loss due to successional changes and the clearing of land for development. Provision of early successional habitat and establishing a shrub layer in certain areas of the eastern breeding range is essential. Although New Jersey and the eastern most range face threats, the overall population of yellow-breasted chats is secure.

Text written by Emily Heiser in 2011.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Aves
          Order: Passeriformes
             Family: Parulidae
                Genus: Icteria
                   Species: I. virens

Find Related Info: Special concern

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