Birds in the News

New Video Exposes the Yellow-Breasted Chat as a Total Trash Bird

Don’t let the mean old city get you down, buddy.


This fall Manhattan has been the hottest place for procrastinating Yellow-breasted Chats. The paunchy, gold parulids should be cozying up to the equator right now—and yet, they keep popping up around the city. The visitors aren’t dining and dashing either; to birders’ delight, they’re taking their sweet time to hop back on the migration track.

There's one butterball in particular that's been living it up. It was first spotted four weeks ago on the south end of Manhattan, roaming the grassy cemetery grounds at Trinity Church, among the crusty remains of Alexander Hamilton. Chats are typically known for skulking in thickets and scrubby patches; yet this bird is surprisingly brazen, perching out in the open and flying across the walking paths.

In the last week, though, the bird’s demeanor has only gotten more bizarre. Long Island resident Michael Zito checked in on it on Black Friday while chasing another Manhattan vagrant—a Western Tanager. He was able pinpoint the chat quickly in the tiny cemetery, but what he witnessed next shocked him. 

Zito caught the bird dipping into an industrial-sized garbage can—twice. Each time it spent about two to three minutes in the container, obscured from his view and his camera.

So, was the bird dumpster diving, or was it looking to keep warm in a steaming pile of trash? Zito thinks it was foraging, though he can't even imagine what it found appetizing among the Pret a Manger sandwich wrappers and holiday Starbucks cups. The typical Yellow-breasted Chat diet is made up of spiders and insects, plus a smattering of berries and fruits. The typical New Yorker diet is made up of carbs and caffeine.

Zito’s observations points to a larger trend of birds getting far too familiar with human filth. But if there's anyone who could vouch for this chat's new outlook on life, it's Oscar the Grouch: “I love trash. What’s wrong with that?”

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