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American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla

Order:
Passeriformes
Family:
Parulidae
Sections
  • Version: 3.0 — Published November 7, 2017
  • Thomas W. Sherry, Richard T. Holmes, Peter Pyle, and Michael A. Patten
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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.

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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
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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
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Adult male

Stocky, medium-sized songbird with a very large triangular bill. Males have a distinctive red breast.

© Deborah Bifulco, New Jersey, United States, 1 May 2017
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Female

Stocky, medium-sized songbird with a very large triangular bill. Females are heavily streaked above and below with a white eyebrow and a pale bill.

© James Kinderman, Wisconsin, United States, 13 May 2017
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Immature male

Immature males look like a cross between a female and a male with a white eyebrow and a smaller red breast patch.

© Jay McGowan, New York, United States, 12 September 2016
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Adult male

Stocky songbird with a hefty triangular bill. From behind males have a white rump patch.

© Tim Lenz, New York, United States, 24 May 2014
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Female

Females are heavily streaked above and below with a white eyebrow and pale bill.

© Deborah Bifulco, New Jersey, United States, 1 May 2017
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Female

Females are heavily streaked above and below. Note the white eyebrow and white wingbars.

© William Keim, New Jersey, United States, 4 May 2017
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Adult male

Stocky songbird with a red breast and white belly.

© Tim Lenz, New York, United States, 24 May 2015
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Adult male

Found in eastern forests and forest edges. Often sings from elevated perches.

© Austin Loewen, Connecticut, United States, 16 May 2017

A small, also

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Adult

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 BROWN, New York, United States
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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 Read, 14 April 2010
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Adult

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 Liner, Alaska, United States, 21 June 2007
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Adult

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

© Timothy Barksdale, Arkansas, United States
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Adult male and female

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

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

Full-bodied thrush with a bright rusty belly.

© Marie Read, 8 April 2010
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Adult

Males and females carry back mouthfuls of food to nestlings.

© Timothy Barksdale, New York, United States, 30 May 2004
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Adult/immature

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

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

Gives a chee call that rises in pitch.

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

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
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Adult

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

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

Nestlings leave the nest around 13 days old.

© Jay 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).

Test text and references (11,12).

Recommended Citation

Sherry, T. W., R. T. Holmes, P. Pyle, and M. 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, NY, USA. Retrieved from Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/amered