Living Bird Magazine
American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Parulidae
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.More ID Info
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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).
- Candelita Norteña (Spanish)
- Paruline flamboyante (French)
In late summer, redstarts visit plants with small berries and fruits, such asserviceberry and magnolia. Planting these in your yard may help attract them.
- Cool Facts
- Like the Painted Redstart and other “redstarts” of the Neotropics, the American Redstart flashes the bright patches in its tail and wings. This seems to startle insect prey and give the birds an opportunity to catch them. Though these birds share a common name, they are not closely related to each other. In fact, there are other unrelated birds around the world—such as the fantails of Australia and southeastern Asia, and other redstarts of Europe—that share the same foraging tricks.
- Young male American Redstarts have gray-and-yellow plumage, like females, until their second fall. Yearling males sing vigorously in the attempt to hold territories and attract mates. Some succeed, but most do not breed successfully until the following year when they develop black-and-orange breeding plumage.
- The male American Redstart sometimes has two mates at the same time. While many other polygamous bird species involve two females nesting in the same territory, the redstart holds two separate territories that can be separated by a quarter-mile. The male begins attracting a second female after the first has completed her clutch and is incubating the eggs.
- The oldest American Redstart was over 10 years old, when he was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Ontario.