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American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: PARULIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A lively warbler that hops among tree branches in search of insects, the male American Redstart is coal-black with vivid orange patches on the sides, wings, and tail. True to its Halloween-themed color scheme, the redstart seems to startle its prey out of the foliage by flashing its strikingly patterned tail and wing feathers. Females and immature males have more subdued yellow “flash patterns” on a gray background. These sweet-singing warblers nest in open woodlands across much of North America.

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Keys to identification Help

Warblers
Warblers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A medium-sized warbler with a relatively wide, flat bill and fairly long, expressive tail. In flight it has a deep chest, slim belly, and long, somewhat club-shaped tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult male American Redstarts are mostly black with bright orange patches on the sides, wings, and tail. The belly is white. Females and immature males replace the orange with yellow or yellow-orange. They have gray head and underparts, with olive back and wings and dark-gray tail.

  • Behavior

    American Redstarts are incredibly active insectivores that seem never to stand still. They rapidly spread their cocked tails, exposing the orange or yellow in a quick flash, which often startles insect prey into flushing, whereupon the redstart darts after it, attempting to catch it in the air.

  • Habitat

    American Redstarts breed in open wooded habitats, particularly those dominated by deciduous trees. In migration, the species can be found in nearly any treed habitats. Its tropical winter habitat is in woodlands and open forest at lower and middle elevations.

Range Map Help

American Redstart Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Breeding male

    American Redstart

    Breeding male
    • Long-tailed warbler with distinctive orange and black plumage
    • Often spreads tail, flashing orange patches, as it flits about
    • Very active as it forages
    • © Linda Peterson, May 2012
  • Female/juvenile

    American Redstart

    Female/juvenile
    • Females/juveniles are pale gray with yellow/orange patches on wings/tail
    • Long tail, often fanned open while foraging
    • © Kelly Colgan Azar, Cape May, New Jersey, September 2010
  • Female

    American Redstart

    Female
    • Pale gray head and breast, with olive-green wings
    • Yellow patches on wings, tail and sides of breast
    • Actively flits, often flashing color patches on tail
    • © Bill Thompson, Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts, July 2012
  • Breeding male

    American Redstart

    Breeding male
    • Stocky and compact warbler with long tail
    • Males have bold black-and-orange plumage pattern
    • © Bill Thompson, Hawley, Massachusetts, August 2011

Similar Species

  • Breeding male

    Blackburnian Warbler

    Breeding male
    • Often forages very high in trees - more difficult to observe than American Redstart
    • Bright flame-orange on face and breast
    • Bold white patches on gray/black wings
    • © Greg Schneider, May 2011
  • Female/juvenile

    Magnolia Warbler

    Female/juvenile
    • Somewhat similar to female/juvenile American Redstart but bright yellow on belly
    • White patches on under-tail
    • © Ken Phenicie Jr, Fremont, California, October 2012
  • Adult male

    Baltimore Oriole

    Adult male
    • Much larger and more elongated than America Redstart
    • Long, sharply-pointed bill
    • Bright orange throughout under-parts
    • © quietriver250, Iowa, May 2008

Similar Species

Adult male American Redstarts are nearly unmistakable. Baltimore Orioles are much larger, more slender, with a longer, more pointed bill. They are mostly bright orange, whereas male redstarts are mostly black. Dull Magnolia Warblers can be surprisingly similar to female and immature male American Redstarts (their head patterns can be nearly identical), but have yellow throat and upper belly, with vague darker streaking on the sides. The tail pattern from underneath is identical, except that in Magnolia Warblers the base is white, rather than yellow. Magnolia Warblers are also not nearly as frenetic in foraging as are American Redstarts. Virginia’s Warblers have obvious white eyerings and yellow undertail coverts and are not the aerialists that American Redstarts are.

Backyard Tips

In late summer, redstarts visit plants with small berries and fruits, such as barberry, serviceberry, and magnolia. Planting these in your yard may help attract them.

Find This Bird

In deciduous woodlands, American Redstarts are fairly conspicuous compared to other small birds of the leafy canopy and subcanopy. They are seemingly hyperactive, repeatedly dashing through trees and bushes after unseen insects, or prancing along branches, rapidly spreading and closing its black-and-yellow or black-and-orange tail. Males sing their sweet, explosive songs frequently during spring and early summer. American Redstarts are common spring and fall migrants in the East. It is a later spring migrant (arriving in May in much of the U.S. and Canada) and a mid-season fall migrant (September-early October).