Bird Identification – The Yellow-breasted Chat

“Now he barks like a puppy, then quacks like a duck, then rattles like a kingfisher, then squalls like a fox, then caws like a crow, then mews like a cat—C-r-r-r-r-r-whrr—that’s it—Chee-quack, cluck, yit-yit-yit-now—hit it—tr-r-r-r-wheu-caw-caw-cut, cut-tea-boy-who, who-mew, mew,” writes John Burroughs of this rollicking polyglot, the chat; but not even that close student of nature could set down on paper all the multitude of queer sounds with which the bird amuses himself. He might be mistaken for a dozen different birds and animals in as many minutes.

Such a secretive roysterer is he that you may rarely see him, however often you may hear his voice when he is hidden beyond sight in partial clearings or the bushy, briery, thickety openings in the woods. As he seems to delight in keeping pursuers off by a natural fence of barbed wire, the cat brier, wild blackberry, raspberry, and rose bushes are among his favourite plants. But if you will sit down quietly near his home, your patience will probably be rewarded by the sight of this largest of the warblers, with olive green upper parts, a conspicuous white line running from his bill around his eye and another along his throat, and a bright yellow breast shading to grayish white underneath. He is over an inch longer than the English sparrow. His wife looks just like him.

The zany at the circus can go through no more clownish tricks than the chat. See him, a mere bunch of feathers, dance and balance in the air, now fluttering, now falling as if he had been shot, or turning aerial somersaults, now rising and trailing his legs behind him like a stork, now dropping out of sight in the thickest part of the thicket. The instant he spies you, Chut-Chut, he scolds from the briars. Shy, eccentric, absurd, but inspired with a “fine frenzy,” which is a passionate love for his mate and their nest, all his queer notes and equally queer stunts centre about his home. On moonlight nights, Punchinello entertains himself and Columbine with a series of inimitable performances which have earned him the title of yellow mockingbird. He can throw his voice so that it seems to come from quite a different direction, as you may sometime have heard a human ventriloquist do.