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    American Redstart Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat ForestsAmerican Redstarts breed in moist, deciduous, second-growth woodlands with abundant shrubs, across much of the eastern and northern United States and southern Canada. Its habitat is often situated near water, and includes alder and willow thickets, thickets in treefall gaps within old-growth forest, fencerows, orchards, and mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands. Redstarts favor interior woodland over edges, and prefer large tracts of habitat measuring at least 1,000 acres in area. In the western part of their range they use riverside woods, thickets, and coniferous forest. They spend the winter in low- to mid-elevation forest habitats in southern Florida and California, as well as in southern and western Mexico, Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean. Their wintering habitat includes mangroves, shade coffee plantations, citrus plantations, wet forest, scrub thickets, and even isolated trees in residential urban areas.Back to top

    Food

    Food InsectsAmerican Redstarts feed mostly on insects, including leafhoppers, planthoppers, flies, moths and their larvae, wasps, and beetles. In late summer they also eat some small berries and fruits, such as barberry, serviceberry, and magnolia. They forage between the ground and near the top of the canopy, taking most of their prey from twigs, branches, and leaves. They fan their tails and droop their wings, showcasing the orange-and-black or yellow-and-gray “flash patterns” of their plumage, presumably to startle prey and flush it from vegetation. American Redstarts take more flying prey than most other warbler species, and they compete with other flycatching species (such as Least Flycatcher) for the same prey. Individuals usually forage alone but may stay near their mates, and they sometimes join mixed-species flock in the nonbreeding season.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest TreeThe male shows the female potential nest sites during the early stages of courtship. She tests out many sites by settling into them and moving around, and finally chooses one. The nest is usually supported by the main trunk of a tree or shrub and a few other vertical stems, and well camouflaged by foliage. Common nest trees include maple, birch, ash, hawthorn, alder, eastern white cedar, cherry, balsam poplar, and willow.

    Nest Description

    The female builds the nest by herself in about 3-7 days. The nest is a tightly woven cup of small fibers, such as birch bark strips, grasses, milkweed seed hairs, animal hairs, feathers, rootlets, leaves, lichens, twigs, mosses, pine needles, and wasp nest paper. The nest measures 2–3 inches across and 2–3 inches high on the outside, with an inner cup about 2 inches across and 1.5 inches deep.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
    Incubation Period:10-13 days
    Nestling Period:7-13 days
    Egg Description:White or creamy with blotches of brownish or reddish; some are so speckled that they are nearly brown all over.
    Condition at Hatching:Helpless, with closed eyes, and naked except for downy tufts of feathers on the head, neck, and back.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Foliage GleanerMales defend their territory boundaries with songs, posturing, and aerial displays, including one display in which they fly in circles near each other. Female sometimes defend the territory against other females. Two birds may strike at each other or even grapple with their bills and feet, though they rarely hurt each other. Both the male and the female bring food for the nestlings. Though normally monogamous, the male may start singing to attract another mate once his first mate has finished laying eggs. He spends more effort providing food for his first nest than for his second. Once the chicks leave the nest, the parents divide up the chicks for feeding duty: the female feeds certain chicks while the male feeds the others. Foraging adults may be preyed on by raptors such as Sharp-shinned Hawks, while eggs and nestlings are vulnerable to climbing mammals, snakes, and birds such as Blue Jays, Common Ravens, Gray Jays, Common Grackles, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Cooper’s Hawks, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernAmerican Redstarts are common but numbers indicate a small decline across their range (with up to a 47% decline in the U.S.) between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 39 million individuals, with 81% breeding in Canada, 19% spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 13% wintering in Mexico. They rate a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Like most nocturnal migrant songbirds, American Redstarts can be killed by colliding with structures such as skyscrapers, cell-phone towers, radio antennas, and wind turbines.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

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

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    Credits

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

    Sherry, Thomas W., Richard T. Holmes, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. 2016. American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

    Stephenson, Tom and Scott Whittle. 2013. The Warbler Guide: Princeton University Press.

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