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American Redstart Life History


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


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


Nest Placement

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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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


Low Concern

American Redstarts are common but they declined by approximately 1.1% per year in the U.S. between 1966 and 2017. However, due to increased numbers in Canada the overall population is stable and only slightly declining, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 42 million individuals and rates them 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. 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.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

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, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Stephenson, T. and S. Whittle (2013). The Warbler Guide. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA.

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