Winter Fashion Faux Pas

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

It is general knowledge that wearing pastel-yellow to a winter wedding is considered inappropriate and too summery.   Nature seems to follow these fashion guidelines as well.  Yes, the sun is yellow, I’ll give you that one.  Perhaps the American Goldfinch is showing a little yellow during winter.  The bill of a Bald Eagle or certain kinds of gulls are yellow.  The dead stalks of grasses and the occasional leaf that is hanging on to a tree may also be yellow.  But let’s face it, during winter in our area, you don’t see too many yellow’s at weddings, or in nature.

So it came as a big surprise to see a bright, banana-yellow bird on a walk on January 29th at the State Line Woods Nature Preserve, a few hundred yards north of the Delaware/PA line.  Brian Byrnes, from the National Audubon Society, and Gwen Lacy, from the Kennett Township Land Trust, which owns the preserve, accompanied me on the walk.  We were scouting a few properties in preparation for a proposal to extend the Red Clay Valley Important Bird Area into Pennsylvania from Delaware.

We stopped to view a large flock of sparrows, when Brian said, “There’s a Yellow-breasted Chat!”  We all got great looks at it for a few minutes.  It was seen again by a group of birders on February 1st.  Hank Davis got the photo below.

This Yellow-breasted Chat was found at the State Line Woods Nature Preserve in Kennett Twp., PA. on January 29.  Photo by Hank Davis.
This Yellow-breasted Chat was found at the State Line Woods Nature Preserve in Kennett Twp., PA. on January 29. Photo by Hank Davis.
The Yellow-breasted Chat breeds in this area in summer, and normally winters from Mexico through Panama.  Occasionally, they winter further north along the Atlantic coast of the USA, but very rarely are they encountered here in mid to late winter.  Normally, this bird eats insects, but switches to eating some fruit in the winter.  Since there aren’t too many insects to catch at this time of year here, what is this bird eating?  Two references from previous winters are as follows:  Two Chats were found dead in January in Illinois and had multiflora rose fruit in their stomachs (Graber et al. 1983), and one in Delaware in February was observed feeding on Japanese honeysuckle fruit (Hess et al. 2000).  If you go see this “out of fashion and season” bird, try to observe what it is eating and report back.

Graber, J. W., R. R. Graber, and E. L. Kirk. 1983. Illinois birds: wood warblers. Ill. Nat. Hist. Surv. Biol. Notes 118.

Hess, G. K., R. L. West, M. V. Barnhill III, and L. M. Fleming. 2000. Birds of Delaware. Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA.

Upcoming programs with the Delaware Nature Society include: Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Tour and Birding on February 9; Great Backyard Bird Count and Breakfast February 12.

5 thoughts on “Winter Fashion Faux Pas”

  1. What a beautiful bird. I was not familiar with the Yellow-breasted Chat. Thanks for introducing us! I will definitely be on the look out for this fellow. That yellow breast is gorgeous!

  2. What are the red berries right in front of this well-fed looking specimen? Might be a clue……..

  3. Sunny: Good question. At first I thought they were multiflora rose, but now I am doubting myself. Other choices might be burning bush, or even japanese barberry. If anyone knows what the berries are, please chime in. Joe

  4. Could it be bittersweet, after the orange shells have fallen off? I see tendrils that may belong to a vine….

  5. Hank Davis, who took the shot of this bird told me that he saw it eating multiflora rose hips and oriental bittersweet fruit.

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