The redstart is one of the most memorable birds that live in parks, gardens and natural landscapes in Russia. For the spectacular bright tail, which is visible from afar, the bird received the name – redstart. Color contrast is more noticeable in males, while females and young birds are more pastel in color. However, a characteristic feature is a bright red swaying tail, which is present in all birds.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Redstart

Photo: Redstart

The first formal description of the redstart was made by a Swedish naturalist C. Linnaeus in 1758 in the publication of Systema Naturae under the binomial name Motacilla phoenicurus. The genus name Phoenicurus was given by the English naturalist Thomos Forster in 1817. The genus and species name phoenicurus comes from two ancient Greek words phoinix “red” and -ouros — “tailed”.

An interesting fact: Redstarts are typical members of the Muscicapidae family, which is rightly indicated by the etymology of the scientific name, which was born as a result of the fusion of two Latin terms “musca” = fly and “capere” = to catch.

The closest genetic relative of the common redstart is the white-browed redstart, although the sampling of the genus gives some uncertainty to this. Her ancestors may have been the first redstarts to spread in Europe. They are believed to have diverged from the Black Redstart group about 3 million years ago at the end of the Pliocene.

Video: Redstart

Genetically, common and black redstarts are still quite compatible and can produce hybrids that appear healthy and prolific. However, these two groups of birds are separated by different behavioral traits and ecological requirements, so hybrids are very rare in nature. The redstart became the bird of the year in Russia in 2015

Appearance and features

Photo: Redstart bird

Photo: Redstart

The redstart is very similar in appearance and behavior to the dawn. She has the same body length of 13–14.5 cm, but a slightly more slender figure and a lower weight of 11–23 g. The coloration of the orange-red tail, from which redstarts take their name, often fluctuates in color combinations. Among common European birds, only the black redstart (P. ochrurus) has a tail of the same color.

The male is strikingly contrasting in color. In summer, it has a slate-gray head and upperparts, except for the rump and tail, which, like the sides, underwings and axillae, are orange-chestnut in color. The forehead is white, the face on the sides and throat are black. The wings and two central tail feathers are brown, the rest of the tail feathers are bright orange-red. The orange hue on the sides fades to almost white on the belly. Beak and paws are black. In autumn, the pale feathers at the edges of the body are hidden, giving the coloration a washed-out appearance.

The females are inconspicuously colored. The upper surface is brownish. The underside of the body is light beige with a lush orange breast, sometimes intense, which clearly separates from gray to dark gray chin and sides of the neck. Underside, contrasting more clearly with the orange underside. The wings are brownish, like those of the male, the undersides are beige with an orange tinge. She lacks black and slate in her coloring, and her throat is whitish. With age, females can approach the color of males and become more contrasting.

Where does the redstart live?

Photo: Redstart in Russia

Photo: Redstart in Russia

The distribution of this western and central Palearctic species is located in the temperate part of Eurasia, including the boreal, Mediterranean and steppe zones. In the southern parts of the nesting area is limited by mountains. In the north of the Iberian Peninsula, redstart is not common, it is mainly found in its southern and western parts. There are cases of scattered nesting of these birds in northern Africa.

In the British Isles, it occurs in the far east of Ireland and is absent from the Scottish Isles. In the eastern direction, the range extends to Siberia to Baikal. Some small populations can be found even to the east of it. In the north, the range extends in Scandinavia to 71° north latitude, including the Kola Peninsula, and then east to the Yenisei in Russia. in Italy, the species is absent in Sardinia and Corsica. In the Balkan Peninsula, habitats are quite scattered and reach as far north as Greece.

Interesting fact: The Redstart breeds actively on the southern and northern edge of the Black Sea and in the southwestern Caucasus and at about 50 ° N. through Kazakhstan to the Saur Mountains and further east to the Mongolian Altai. In addition, the distribution extends from the Crimea and eastern Turkey to the Caucasus and the Kopetdag mountain system and northeastern Iran to the Pamirs, in the south to the Zagros mountains. A small population breeds in Syria.

Common Redstarts prefer open mature forests with birch and oak trees that offer a good view of the area with little shrubs and undergrowth, especially where trees old enough to have holes suitable for nesting. They prefer to nest on the edge of the forest.

In Europe, this also includes parks and old gardens in urban areas. They nest in natural depressions in trees, so dead trees or those with dead branches are useful to this species. They often use old open coniferous forests, especially in the northern part of the breeding range.

What do redstarts eat?

Photo: Female Redstart

Photo: Female Redstart

Redstart seeks food mainly on the ground, in the lower layer of shrubs and grasses. If there are a sufficient number of swarming insects in the upper layer of a bush or tree, the bird will certainly also eat them. The redstart diet consists of small invertebrates, but plant foods, especially berries, also play a role. The prey spectrum is diverse, it includes more than 50 families of insects, various arachnids and many other soil inhabitants.

The diet of the redstart includes:

  • spiders;
  • flies;
  • beetles;
  • ants:
  • caterpillars;
  • larvae;
  • butterflies;
  • centipedes;
  • worms;
  • woodlice;
  • snails (used as a diet supplement).

Berries and other fruits are sometimes fed to nestlings, and after the breeding season — eat adult animals. Defensive insects such as bees and wasps are not eaten. The size of prey is from two to eight millimeters. Large prey is dismembered before feeding. The redstart mostly waits for prey by hiding on elevated places such as rocks, pillars or rooftops, sparse bushes or trees.

The distance to the prey is usually two to three meters, but can be more than ten meters. As an alternative to hunting for prey, the redstart also searches for food directly on the ground in various ways. For this, her paws and equally long inner and outer fingers are well adapted for jogging. Most of the time she moves by bouncing. Thus, the redstart demonstrates a high degree of flexibility in choosing and catching prey.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Male Redstart

Photo: Male Redstart

The redstart usually perches on the lower branches of trees or smaller bushes and makes startling trembling movements with its tail. To find food, the bird travels briefly to the ground or catches insects during a short flight in the air. Winters in central Africa and Arabia, south of the Sahara Desert but north of the equator and from eastern Senegal to Yemen. Birds migrate to areas that are close to the climate of the savannas. Rare winter migrants are also observed in the Sahara or Western Europe.

Interesting fact: The southeastern subspecies winters south of the breeding area, mainly in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, in Ethiopia and Sudan east of the Nile. The redstart leaves for the winter very early. Migration takes place from mid-July and ends around the end of September. Main Departure Time — in the second half of August. Late birds can be found until October, very rarely in November.

In breeding areas, the earliest birds arrive in late March, the main arrival time of — mid-April to early May. Migratory movements of the redstart depend on the available food. In cold weather, the main part of the food is berries. After arrival, the males sing almost throughout the day, only their song does not have a complete ending. In July, the redstart is no longer heard.

Moulting occurs in July – August. Redstarts are not very sociable birds, outside the breeding season, they are almost always alone in search of food. Only in places where prey is concentrated, for example, on the banks of rivers, there are insignificant concentrations of birds, but even then there is a significant distance between them.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Redstart

Photo: Redstart

Redstart nests in caves or any recesses in trees, in woodpecker nests. The interior should not be completely dark, but should be illuminated by a weak light, such as a wide entrance or a second opening. Often this species breeds in hollow caves, such as rock crevices, hollow fence posts. Often the nests are in man-made buildings. Most of the nests are located at a height of one to five meters. If the masonry is placed on the ground, then it should be in a protected place.

Redstarts adhere to a monogamous way of reproduction. Males arrive a little earlier at the breeding site and set off in search of suitable hiding places to form a nest. The final decision is made by the female. The nest is built almost exclusively by the female, which takes 1.5 to 8 days to complete. The size is often determined by the volume of the nest cavity.

Straw, grass, moss, leaves or pine needles are used to lay the nesting place. Often there are small admixtures of other, coarser materials, such as bark, small twigs, lichens or willows. The width of the building is from 60 to 65 mm, the depth is from 25 to 48 mm. The inside is the same material as the base, but is thinner and fits more neatly. It is covered in feathers, moss, animal hair, or the like.

Fun fact: If a brood is lost, there may be a late brood replacement. Earliest laying start — end of April/beginning of May, last oviposition observed in first half of July.

The clutch consists of 3-9, usually 6 or 7 eggs. The eggs are oval, have a deep greenish-blue, slightly shiny color. Incubation lasts 12 to 14 days and begins shortly after the last egg has been laid. Hatching of chicks can take more than a day. After 14 days, young birds begin to fly. Young birds migrate very quickly to winter places of settlement. They become sexually mature by the end of the first year of life.

Natural enemies of the redstart

Photo: Redstart bird

Photo: Redstart bird

The redstart’s habit of hiding helps it survive inside settlements. All her behavior indicates caution, secrecy and distrust, especially during the breeding season, when alertness and observation are intensified. The bird remains for hours in a hidden place among the leaves of a small bush or in almost complete darkness, ready to defend itself as soon as it notices danger.

Losses of eggs and chicks are relatively small, since the nests are well protected and difficult to access for predators. Under normal circumstances, from 90% of eggs hatch successfully, and up to 95% of hatchlings fly out of the nest on their own.

Egg hatchability is affected by:

  • in urban areas, more than a third of these cases associated with human intervention.
  • in mountainous areas, cold periods dramatically increase the mortality of chicks.
  • further losses are caused by ectoparasites and the cuckoo, which regularly lays its eggs in the nest of the black redstart, especially in the alpine region.

The most important predators for adult birds are the sparrowhawk and barn owl. The latter does not allow the redstart to rest. Owls incubate their eggs on the roof, and redstarts under the roof. It is striking that redstarts, unlike other birds such as blackbirds, sparrows or finches, rarely become victims of road traffic. This may be due to the maneuverability of moving objects, which is important for redstarts as a hunter.

In addition, the enemies of the redstart are: a cat, a squirrel, a magpie, a weasel, a person. With regard to the age structure of populations, observational data and projections show that about half of the sexually active birds are one-year-olds. Another 40 percent — one to three years, only about 3 percent — five years and older. The previously known maximum age for free-living redstarts is ten years.

Population and species status

Photo: Redstart in Russia

Photo: Redstart in Russia

The number of redstarts has declined sharply since the 1980s. In addition to habitat destruction in breeding areas, the main reasons for this are profound changes in the wintering areas of birds in Africa, such as increased use of pesticides + insecticides and a serious expansion of the Sahel.

Interesting fact: European populations are estimated at four to nine million breeding pairs. Despite the reduction in some places (England, France), in general, the redstart population in Europe has increased. In this regard, the species is not classified as endangered and there are no known conservation measures.

This species would benefit from the conservation of old, deciduous and mixed forests and large trees in urban plantations. At the local level, in suitable habitat, the population will benefit from the provision of nesting sites. It is recommended to preserve traditional gardens with tall trees and areas with sparse vegetation. These practices should be encouraged through agroecological schemes. In addition, small areas of dense grassland must be mowed throughout the breeding season to preserve suitable foraging grounds

The Redstart has a large range and as a result does not reach Vulnerable species thresholds for range size. A noticeable increase in the number of these birds was at the end of World War II in the destroyed cities. Temporary losses in numbers were compensated in subsequent periods due to the expansion of built-up areas and residential areas.

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