First recorded as a breeding bird in the UK in 1926, black redstarts have gradually become more established although they remain a rare British bird species. Numbers increase in winter with the arrival of migrants from north-eastern Europe, and passage sightings are regularly reported in spring and autumn across eastern England.
Adult male black redstarts have dark grey upperparts and almost black upper wings, with a white patch, which is visible when wings are folded. Upper tail feathers are black and edged with rust-red. Their deep black breast contrasts starkly with the chestnut-red colouring of the lower belly, rump, and outer tail feathers.
A black redstart’s facial features include a grey cap and a deep black face. Its thin bill is short and black, with a slightly hooked tip. Eyes and legs are both black, and it black legs.
Adult females are a dull grey all over with brownish cheeks, dark upper wings, and a pale grey-brown belly. Their undertail is orange-red, similar to that of a male but less vibrant.
Juvenile black redstarts resemble females but are generally darker in colour, with scaling visible on their breast and belly and belly.
Black Redstart Male
Black Redstart Female
Black redstarts are small songbirds, around the same size as robins, but have longer tails. Males and females are the same size and weight.
Black Redstart perching on top of a rock
The alarm call of a male black redstart is a short, harsh ‘tuc – tuc’ or ‘tsip’, used to defend a territory or deter intruders. The song of male black redstarts isn’t limited to the breeding season, with visiting passage migrants also heard singing with hesitant rattled ‘drrr-drrr-tawidu’ whistling notes.
Black Redstart calling out to deter intruders
Invertebrates and berries are both important in the diets of black redstarts. Insects, including grasshoppers, flies, earwigs, cockroaches, beetles, butterflies and moths, and ants, bees, and wasps are among their most common prey, as well as spiders, worms, millipedes, woodlice, and caterpillars.
Fruit, berries, and seeds increase in importance after the breeding season, with bramble, hawthorn, strawberry, bilberry, pea, buckthorn, and juniper among popular food sources.
Both male and female redstarts feed young, bringing a mixture of insects and fruits to the nest site. Flies and ants are the most common insect prey and berries and seeds are also fed.
Female Black Redstart feeding on mealworms
Open expanses of wasteland with rubble and stony ground, with sparse vegetation offer an ideal habitat for black redstarts, especially urban landscapes with abandoned towers, buildings, or other tall disused structures close by. Rugged terrain, with rocky slopes and crevices and ledges, is favoured.
Parks, woodlands, and gardens are usually avoided in preference of environments that mimic natural rugged sites. Railway sidings, roadside laybys, industrial estates, and power stations are some examples of common urban sites where black redstarts are found.
Black redstarts breed in parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Their European range extends from the UK, France, Germany, and Poland, through southern Scandinavia and eastern Europe to Ukraine and the far southwestern corner of Russia.
These populations typically move south once breeding is complete, although black redstarts have a patchy distribution all year round in most southern European countries. Italy, Greece, and the Balkan States, as well as parts of North Africa’s coastline, welcome an influx of overwintering birds each autumn.
To the east, breeding takes place in Central Asia, distributed between Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and throughout the western half of China. Wintering grounds for eastern populations are found across India, Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and into East Africa, as far south as Somalia and Ethiopia.
Europe forms around 35 percent of the global population of black redstarts, with between 11.5 and 20 million individual birds. Germany, Spain, and Turkey are known to have the largest resident populations.
Black Redstart in natural habitat
Globally, black redstarts have a wide range and a large, increasing population of between 32 and 57 million individuals. However, in the UK, they are much more of a rarity, with only 58 breeding pairs recorded between 2013 and 2017.
Sightings outside of the breeding season are more common, with arrivals from northern Europe in the autumn and temporary passage migrants passing through en route to their wintering grounds further south.
Industrial areas, power stations, and urban settlements are locations most commonly associated with sightings of black redstarts.
Greater London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Ipswich and the eastern and southern coasts of England are all known sites where successful breeding has occurred in recent years. East Anglia offers improved chances of sightings of passage individuals during spring and autumn migration.
Female Black Redstart preparing to land
The oldest documented black redstart reached 5 years and 2 days, identified by a ringing programme in 2015. First-year birds are known to breed occasionally, although are more successful in their second year.
Common predators of black redstarts include birds of prey, snakes, and domestic cats. Tail-flicking is used by the species to deter predators and avoid being attacked.
Black redstarts are protected as Schedule I birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. This legislation prohibits any kind of interference with nest sites, eggs, and young, as well as making it an offence to knowingly kill, injure or take one into captivity.
In the UK, black redstarts have been classified with Amber status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list, due to the low breeding numbers and concern over the long-term survival of the species if habitat loss and population decline continue. Globally, the black redstarts are rated as species of least concern.
Black Redstart in natural habitat
Black redstarts’ nests are loose deep cups of grass and stems, lined with moss, hair, wool, and feathers. The female builds the nest structure in a crevice, rocky slope, or crag, or in an earth bank, a pile of stones, or on the ground.
The breeding season for black redstarts begins in April and lasts until July. Pairs usually raise two broods together, and occasionally a third brood will be successfully attempted.
The first clutch is laid in April, and incubation lasts for 12 to 13 days, with only the female brooding the eggs. Young black redstarts are fed by both parents and fledge at between 12 and 17 days.
Black redstarts lay four to six white or pale blue-green eggs. Their eggs, which are shiny and smooth, measure on average 19 mm by 14 mm (0.7 in by 0.6 in).
Black redstarts usually mate for life, forming and maintaining a strong bond with their mate. In winter, black redstarts usually become solitary and do not closely associate with other birds, although occasionally pairs of groups of three or more may be spotted foraging together.
Nest of a Black Redstart with five eggs
Black Redstart chicks in the nest
Some territorial aggression is observed in male black redstarts during the breeding season, with intolerance shown to birds that approach their nest site too closely. The song is the main tactic used to warn potential intruders off.
Black redstarts are thought to roost in branches of trees and shrubbery, concealed by foliage and out of sight or reach of nocturnal predators. Roosting spots in crevices and on ledges, as well as on power cables may also be used.
Black Redstart resting on a branch
Black redstarts’ migratory status varies from region to region. In northern regions, they are mostly migratory, moving southwest from northern and eastern Europe into North Africa, and from central Asia into the Arabian Peninsula and Indian Subcontinent.
Southern European populations, including those in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, are non-migratory and remain in the same territories all year round.
Black redstarts do breed in the UK and are resident in the country all year round, although the population is incredibly low and their presence is limited to coastal regions.
UK numbers increase with winter arrivals from Europe each autumn, and passage sightings, particularly across East Anglia, are regularly reported between September and November.
Black Redstart in-flight carrying food in his beak
As you might expect from their name, common redstarts are a lot less rare than black redstarts and are widespread throughout the UK. Similar in size and shape, colouring is the key way to tell the difference between the species.
Male black redstarts’ plumage is dominated by black, with a black breast, an orange-red belly, and grey-black upperparts. Common redstarts have lighter grey-brown upperparts, a white forehead, and an orange-red breast and belly. Females are more similar, although female black redstarts are generally darker, and female common redstarts have faint reddish colouring visible on the breast.
Black redstarts do not normally visit gardens and survive by foraging for insects and invertebrates and wild berries and seeds. Areas of wild vegetation where they have access to a diverse range of insect and plant species
Tail flicking is a common trait of black redstarts, and it’s observed to increase in frequency when they sense a predator nearby. Tail flicking is also part of the male black redstart’s courtship display, drawing attention to the bright rusty-orange tail feathers.
23cm to 26cm
14g to 20g
Blue Rock Thrush
Widespread throughout Southern Europe, North Africa and Southern Asia, the blue rock thrush is a large sized chat which is predominantly sedentary, although a partial migrant within specific narrow geographical areas.
Whinchats are small heathland birds with a striking orange, brown and white plumage. They arrive in northern Europe to breed each spring, before breed in northern Europe returning to their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa each autumn.
Sparrow-sized summer visitors to rocky uplands across Scotland, Wales and parts of England, wheatears are distinctive orange, black and grey songbirds that nest at ground level in burrows or crevices between rocks.
A familiar bird of open habitats in the UK countryside, Stonechats are conspicuous and easy to spot. They are often seen in pairs, although the sexes are easily confused for different species.
The common redstart is one of the more colourful summer migrants that arrives in Britain to breed each summer. For the best chance of spotting one, head to Wales and northern England, where they nest in hedgerows and oak woodlands from April onwards.
Also known as the Common Nightingale this member of the chat family is a relatively nondescript little bird that has charmed listeners with its powerful and varied song for generations.
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