American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla

american_redstart.jpg

Image of a male American redstart
American redstart (male)
MDC Staff
Family

Parulidae (wood-warblers) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Adult male upperparts are black, with bright orange patches in the tail and wings. Underparts are white with orange patches on the sides of the breast. The female's pattern is similar, swapping drab olive-gray for the black, and yellow for the orange. The song varies but is usually a high series of single or double see see see or seeta seeta seeta notes, with an up-slurred or down-slurred wheezy note at the end. The call is a musical chip. Redstarts flit among tree branches, drooping their wings, fanning their tails, and leaping into the air to catch insects.

Similar species: Male Baltimore orioles, like male American redstarts, share an orange-and-black coloration, but they are much larger and more slender, have more orange than black, and have longer bills. Blackburnian warbler males are less common in Missouri and have orange on the side of the face and throat. Female magnolia warblers look something like female American redstarts, but they have a yellow throat and breast, usually with dark streaking.

Size

Length: 5¼ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

Habitat and conservation

The American redstart is a warbler of young, second-growth forest in the mid-canopy, usually near water. They prefer places with plenty of shrubs, thickets, fencerows, and similar habitat.

Foods

American redstarts flit busily among tree branches, drooping their wings, fanning their tails, and leaping into the air to catch insects. Frequently sallies out from a perch like a flycatcher and captures insects on the wing; compared to other warblers, this species eats a larger percentage of flying insects. Apparently, redstarts flash the bright patches on their tail and wings to surprise and flush insect prey, making them easier to detect and capture. The name "redstart" comes from this bird's habit of flashing its bright tail colors ("start" is a corruption of an antique word meaning "tail"). After breeding is over, redstarts begin to eat small fruits.

image of American Redstart Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

A common transient; also a common summer resident, breeding in certain locations in Missouri. In the Old World, there is another group of birds also called redstarts, but they are not related to the New World warblers, the group to which our North and South American redstarts and whitestarts belong.

Life cycle

The female weaves a cup nest from a variety of plant fibers, usually positioning it in a branch of the main trunk of a tree. A clutch comprises 1–5 eggs, which are incubated 10–13 days. After hatching, the young spend an additional 7–13 days as nestlings. There is 1 brood a year. They can live to be at least 10 years old. Present in Missouri from late March through early September. Their winter range extends from Mexico to the West Indies and northwestern South America. They migrate at night, and they can be killed when they collide with tall buildings, telecommunications towers, and wind-power turbines.

Human connections

Birders repeatedly comment on the "incessant hopping, skipping, and fluttering" of this species, "perhaps the most restless and active of this essentially nervous and fidgety family." Regarding its "lisping and rather unmusical effort," one birder remarked that the American redstart "seems to be altogether too busy to sing a real song"!

Ecosystem connections

Birds that migrate interact with all the regions they live in and travel through. This also means that their well-being depends on healthy ecosystems in all those places. This is why nations create and agree to abide by international conservation laws.