American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla

  • Authors: Sherry, Thomas W. and Richard T. Holmes
  • Revisors: Sherry, Thomas W., Richard T. Holmes, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten
  • Published: Nov 7, 2017

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

You are currently viewing one of the free species accounts available in our complementary tour of BNA. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this species.

For complete access to all species accounts, a subscription is required. Subscriptions are available for as little as $5 for 30 days of complete access! If you would like to subscribe to BNA, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology E-Store or call us at 877-873-2626 (M-F, 8:00-4:00 ET).

Figure 1. Distribution of the American Redstart.

Distribution of the American Redstart in North and Central America and the Caribbean. This species also winters east to the Lesser Antilles and south to northern South America. See text for details.

Adult male American Redstart.

Older males (≥2 yr, Definitive plumage) glossy black with contrastingly bright salmon orange patches on base of outer rectrices and base of remiges, as well as on sides of breast; lower underparts (belly, vent, and undertail-coverts) white.

© Michiel Oversteegen, Aruba, Aruba, 3 October 2016
American Redstart female or hatch-year male.

Females generally light gray on head, gray to olive green on back, and whitish below with pale yellow (not salmon orange) patches on tail, wings, and sides. In Fall, not always distinguishable from hatch-year male.

© Jeremiah Trimble, Massachusetts, United States, 22 October 2016

A small,


Calls with a cuck or tuk to communicate with each other or a sharp yeep or peek as an alarm call. They also make a repeated chirr that rises in volume and can sound like a laugh or chuckle.

© David O Brown, New York, United States, 1 May 2004
Adult female

Females build the nest from the inside out, pressing dead grass and twigs into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. Once the cup is formed, she reinforces the nest using soft mud gathered from worm castings to make a heavy, sturdy nest.

© Marie P Read, 14 April 2010

Runs on the ground with short rapid steps, pausing frequently to scan for prey and/or predators. Uses its bill to probe the ground and pull out earthworms.

© Eric S Liner, Alaska, United States, 21 June 2007

Pulls earthworms out of the ground by using its strong legs.

© Timothy Barksdale, Arkansas, United States, 1 March 2005
Adult male and female

Males and females bring soft-bodied insects and grubs to nestlings, but only the female broods the young.

© Benjamin M Clock, West Virginia, United States, 27 May 2013

Full-bodied thrush with a bright rusty belly.

© Marie P Read, 8 April 2010

Males and females carry back mouthfuls of food to nestlings.

© Timothy Barksdale, New York, United States, 30 May 2004

Often forms large communal roosts at night and feeding flocks where fruit resources are abundant.

© Timothy Barksdale, Missouri, United States, 23 February 1998
Adult male

Gives a chee call that rises in pitch.

© Jay W McGowan, New York, United States, 14 March 2015

Bathes in shallow streams, pools, and bird baths. Often wades into water and dips forward splashing water over its back.

© Timothy Barksdale, Missouri, United States, 1 August 1997

During fall and winter, eats a large amount of fruit, which it swallows whole.

© Timothy Barksdale, Kansas, United States, 4 November 1995

Nestlings leave the nest around 13 days old.

© Jay W McGowan, New York, United States, 21 May 2015

lively wood-warbler (Parulidae), the American Redstart is unforgettable for its conspicuous pirouettes, acrobatic fly-catching sorties, and conspicuous orange-on-black plumage in adult males—yellow-on-gray in females and first-year males. The brightly colored “flash patterns,” which the redstart displays while fanning its tail and drooping its wings, appear to flush prey from vegetation but also serve in communication among individuals of various (1) ages and sexes. The flattened bill with well-developed rictal bristles and proportionately large wing and tail area facilitate in-flight pursuit of insect prey, a behavior used more often than phylogenetically related parulids. This warbler is also vocally conspicuous, especially during the breeding season, with its series of high-pitched phrases sung in a variety of song types and patterns. The fact that the plumage of first-year males resembles that of the female has elicited considerable interest among behavioral and evolutionary biologists.

Corresponding with its broad geographic range (Figure 1), this species occupies a wide variety of open wooded habitats in summer, including secondary forests, fencerows, and deciduous woodlands. Within its overwintering range it is found in virtually any low- to mid-elevation tropical or subtropical habitat with woods or trees, including mangroves (especially black mangroves, Avicennia), primary forest, secondary forest, coffee and citrus plantations, and even isolated trees in residential urban areas.

American Redstarts are locally abundant in much of their breeding range, particularly where appropriate habitat remains. Based on Breeding Bird Survey data (1966–2013), populations have declined in particular habitats (especially in some fragmented and urbanized landscapes) and regions while increasing in others, with only a slight decline in survey-wide abundance (2).

Its broad geographic range and abundance, conspicuous foraging and communication behaviors, and accessibly low nests, coupled with concern about declining populations of migratory birds (e.g., 3, 4, 5), have all contributed to making the American Redstart a model species for understanding the ecology and evolution of long-distance migration (6), including habitat quality, seasonal interactions and mechanisms, carry-over effects, migratory connectivity, sexual selection, and year-round demography. These conceptual advances in redstarts have benefited from novel application of technologies like stable-isotope analysis, satellite imagery, and 3D territory overlap, as well as renewed emphasis on full annual cycle ecology and experimental hypothesis testing (3, 7, 5, 8, 9, 10).

Recommended Citation

Sherry, Thomas W., Richard T. Holmes, Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. 2017. 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. Retrieved from the Birds of North America: