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A Chat About Chats
By Kyle Carlsen
Assistant Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest
Is it a warbler? Some kind of mockingbird? We've long had a hunch that chats are one-of-a-kind, and now the American Ornithological Society has made it official: Yellow-breasted chat is the sole member of the family Icteriidae, nestled between the Cuban warblers and the New World blackbirds. No other bird is quite like a chat, that largish, olivish songbird with a heavy bill and bright yellow throat, usually hidden away in dense vegetation, uttering a bizarre series of snaps, crackles, and pops. If it weren't for their talkative nature, it would be easy to overlook chats altogether, even when exploring their favorite habitat. So what do you know about chats? Let's chat about that.
What do chats eat?
a) Frogs and lizards
b) Seeds and nuts
c) Insects and fruits
d) Carrion and roadkill
Where are you most likely to find a chat's nest?
a) Directly on the ground
b) Situated on a rock ledge
c) Nestled in a tree cavity
d) Hidden in dense vegetation
Chats in summer plumage are plain olive with a bright yellow throat and breast. What colors are they in winter?
a) Pale yellow overall
b) Warm brown with faint streaks
c) Just a duller version of their summer selves
d) Chats are dressed the same way year-round
What size is a yellow-breasted chat?
a) About the size of a goldfinch
b) About the size of a cardinal
c) About the size of a mockingbird
d) About the size of a crow
True or False?
Male chats have a white eye line that extends into an eye ring, resembling spectacles. Female chats resemble males in body color, but lack the spectacles.
True or False?
Male chats perform display flights in spring.
Prior to this year, chats belonged to which family of birds?
Where do chats spend the summer?
a) Throughout most of North America
b) Only in the East
c) Only in the West
d) Only in Texas
Christine Goff, the award-winning author of international thrillers as well as the Birdwatcher's Mystery series, is back with a new, original, bird-themed mystery exclusively for the readers of BirdWire! Upon publication in BirdWire, each installment of "Death of a Flycatcher" will be posted at birdwatchersdigest.com/ DeathOfAFlycatcher, so you can catch up or encourage a friend to start reading. For more information on Goff and her novels, visit christinegoff.com.
The story so far: U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent Angela Dimato is accompanying a group of volunteers on a habitat restoration project via raft in remote western Colorado. Their objective: remove invasive, exotic tamarisk trees and reintroduce native plants, with the goal of improving habitat for native wildlife, including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The group of 14 volunteers and staff includes two troubled youth, Peter and Damon, performing court-ordered community service. While camped for the evening, the boys sneak off and encounter two men, which Angela recognizes as fugitive bank robbers, and heavily armed. To avoid panic among the volunteers, Angela reveals the situation only to Kate, the crew chief. When they attempt to call the police, they discover the satellite phone to have been smashed to pieces. Who is responsible: the fugitives, or a saboteur among the work crew? At dawn, a gunshot cracks through the air—then two more, coming from the cliff face behind Angela. As Angela returns to camp, she sees the targets: All three rafts have been hit and deflated. The volunteers are alarmed, so she explains the situation: The only way out of the canyon is to hike, which would put them in the line of fire. They concoct a plan: Some of the crew will stay at camp. Angela gives her gun to Bobo, a birder. She instructs raft guide Danimal to retrieve supplies from the rafts while she and Kate head downstream under the protection of a thicket, hoping to distract the shooter. Another gunshot pierces the air, followed by a scream! Someone has been shot!
Angela and Kate headed back to camp. Above them, in the direction of camp, a pair of turkey vultures spun lazy circles in the sky. It did nothing to relieve her anxiety. It was too soon for them to swoop in and feed, but they seemed to be hovering.
"What the hell happened?" Kate yelled, thrashing her way through the thicket.
"Slow down," Angela said. Though they were not out in the open, they were still far enough away from camp to be targets. "Stop charging through the bushes. We don't want the shooter taking potshots in our direction."
That seemed to sober Kate up. She slowed her pace, dropping behind Angela as they picked their way cautiously toward the clearing. Reaching the edge of the thicket, Angela sucked in a breath, stepped into the clearing, and came face-to-face with the barrel of her pistol.
Bobo cleared his lungs, took his finger off the trigger, and held out the pistol. "Here, you take it."
Angela found it difficult to breathe. Taking the gun, she jammed it into her holster and willed her heart to stop banging against her ribs as she walked into camp.
A quick head count came up short. The six crew members from Dan's boat were huddled together on a log at the base of the cliff. Bobo had taken a seat next to Maxwell in the opening of their tent. Near the base of a large pine, Peter worked to calm Damon, who was hysterical and hyperventilating.
"Bend over and breathe through your hands," Angela said, walking over and forcing the boy to double in half. She glanced at Kate. "We're missing three."