This largest of the warblers might be mistaken for a dozen birds collectively in as many minutes; but when it is known that the jumble of whistles, parts of songs, chuckles, clucks, barks, quacks, whines, and wails proceed from a single throat, the yellow-breasted chat becomes a marked specimen forthwith -- a conspicuous individual never to be confused with any other member of the feathered tribe. It is indeed absolutely unique. The catbird and the mocking-bird are rare mimics; but while the chat is not their equal in this respect, it has a large repertoire of weird, uncanny cries all its own -- a power of throwing its voice, like a human ventriloquist, into unexpected corners of the thicket or meadow. In addition to its extraordinary vocal feats, it can turn somersaults and do other clown-like stunts as well as any variety actor on the Bowery stage.
Only by creeping cautiously towards the roadside tangle, where this "rollicking polyglot" is entertaining himself and his mate, brooding over her speckled eggs in a bulky nest set in a most inaccessible briery part of the thicket, can you hope to hear him rattle through his variety performance. Walk boldly or noisily past his retreat, and there is "silence there and nothing more." But two very bright eyes peer out at you through the undergrowth, where the trim, elegant-looking bird watches you with quizzical suspicion until you quietly seat yourself assume silent indifference. "Whew, whew!" he begins, and then immediately, with evident intent to amuse, he rattles off an indescribable, eccentric medley until your ears are tired listening. With bill uplifted, tail drooping, wings fluttering at his side, he cuts an absurd figure enough, but not so comical as when he rises into the air, trailing his legs behind him stork-fashion. This surely is the clown among birds. But any though he is, he is as capable of devotion to his Columbine as Punchinello, and remains faithfully mated year after year. However much of a tease and a deceiver he may be to the passer-by along the roadside, in the privacy of the domestic circle he shows truly lovable traits.
He has the habit of singing in his unmusical way on moonlight nights. Probably his ventriloquial powers are cultivated not for popular entertainment, but to lure intruders away from his nest.
MARYLAND YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas) Wood Warbler family
Called also: BLACK-MASKED GROUND WARBLER; [COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, AOU 1998]
Length -- 5.33 inches. Just an inch shorter than the typical English sparrow. Male -- Olive-gray on head, shading to olive-green on all the other upper parts. Forehead, cheeks, and sides of head black, like a mask, and bordered behind by a grayish line. Throat and breast bright yellow, growing steadily paler underneath. Female -- Either totally lacks black mask or its place is Indicated by only a dusky tint. She is smaller and duller. Range -- Eastern North America, west to the plains; most common east of the Alleghanies. Nests from the Gulf States to Labrador and Manitoba; winters south of Gulf States to Panama. Migrations -- May. September. Common summer resident.
"Given a piece of marshy ground with an abundance of skunk cabbage and a fairly dense growth of saplings, and near by a tangle of green brier and blackberry, and you will be pretty sure to have it tenanted by a pair of yellowthroats," says Dr. Abbott, who found several of their nests in skunk-cabbage plants, which he says are favorite cradles. No animal cares to touch this plant if it can be avoided; but have the birds themselves no sense of smell?
Before and after the nesting season these active birds, plump of form, elegant of attire, forceful, but not bold, enter the scrubby pastures near our houses and the shrubbery of old- fashioned, overgrown gardens, and peer out at the human wanderer therein with a charming curiosity. The bright eyes of the male masquerader shine through his black mask, where he intently watches you from the tangle of syringa and snowball bushes; and as he flies into the laburnum with its golden chain of blossoms that pale before the yellow of his throat and breast, you are so impressed with his grace and elegance that you follow too audaciously, he thinks, and off he goes. And yet this is a bird that seems to delight in being pursued. It never goes so far away that you are not tempted to follow it, though it be through dense undergrowth and swampy thickets, and it always gives you just glimpse enough of its beauties and graces before it flies ahead, to invite the hope of a closer inspection next time. When it dives into the deepest part of the tangle, where you can imagine it hunting about among the roots and fallen leaves for the larvae, caterpillars, spiders, and other insects on which it feeds, it sometimes amuses itself with a simple little song between the hunts. But the bird's indifference, you feel sure, arises from preoccupation rather than rudeness.