American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla



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Photos from this Account

Adult male American Redstart.

Older males (≥ 2 yr, Definitive Basic 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.

Adult male American Redstart.

Typically only males sing, primarily during breeding season and in spring migration, but also occasionally in wintering areas. Note distinctive rictal bristles around bill.

Adult male American Redstart.

Amount and position of black feathers on breast ("bib") are variable, and enough to allow recognition of individuals.

Adult male American Redstart.

Male in fresh Definitive Basic Plumage (early fall); the black feathers may be buff-tipped.

Second-year male American Redstart.

Hatch-year and second-year males (through end of first breeding season) are similar to females, but with yellow or sometimes orange-yellow patches on tail, wings, and sides of breast. These yearling males often have small, irregular patches of black feathers on head, breast, or back, the extent of which increases gradually over time. Note black lores.

American Redstart female or hatch-year male.

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

American Redstart.

Adult females and hatch-year individuals of both sexes are not always separable by plumage alone in fall. Olive uppertail coverts (instead of blackish) suggest female.

Representative breeding habitat of the American Redstart.

A northern hardwood forest at Hubbard Brook in New Hampshire. Dominant trees are sugar maple, American beech and yellow birch, with an understory of shrubs, ferns, and tree seedlings and saplings.

Shaded coffee habitat in Jamaica.

Shaded coffee habitat in Jamaica, where redstarts are abundant in winter. Shade trees are Inga vera, a nitrogen-fixing legume that helps fertilize the soil and improve quality of the coffee by ripening the beans more slowly than in sun coffee.

Old-growth black mangrove swamp at Luana Point study site in Jamaica.

Black mangrove trees have distinctive pneumatophores, aerial roots emerging vertically above ground from the root zone and important in gas exchange. This habitat contains the highest density of redstarts documented to date in winter, and they defend territories and forage at all levels in this habitat from the pneumatophores to treetop. Photo documents old-growth black mangrove habitat at site prior to major damage from Hurricane Ivan in September, 2004.

Logwood coastal thorn scrub habitat at Luana Point study site in Jamaica, during the wet season.

Logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum) coastal thorn scrub habitat at Luana Point study site in Jamaica, during the wet season (May through December). These dense, thorny thickets contain abundant redstarts in winter, although this habitat can lose most of its leaves in typical dry seasons due to drought stress (see adjoining photo of same habitat), which can cause declines in food abundance with detrimental effects on redstarts.

Logwood coastal thorn-scrub habitat at Luana Point study site in Jamaica, at peak of dry season.

Logwood coastal thorn-scrub habitat at Luana Point study site in Jamaica, at peak of dry season (March), showing almost complete absence of leaves resulting from drought stress. See adjoining photo of this habitat prior to peak of drought.

Tropical dry forest at Portland Ridge, Jamaica, in the rain shadow of the Blue Mountains.

Redstarts are abundant in this habitat following fall migration and early parts of the overwintering period, but they often abandon this habitat later in the period as it undergoes drought stress and declining insect abundance during the dry season. This photo documents the condition of this forest site prior to a fire in 2005 (following hurricane Ivan damage in September 2004 that left abundant dead trees and branches), which changed the vegetation substantially. Photo by R. T. Holmes.

American Redstart clutch.

Size and color of eggs vary; some eggs are nearly whitish, others heavily speckled. Greene County, Pennsylvania, 23 May. Ruler is in cm; photographer Rene Corado.

Female American Redstart brooding chicks on a nest.

Nest is in American beech sapling, and besides spider silk and egg cases; includes bark strips from yellow birch and probably white ash.

Female American Redstart on nest.

Nest is tightly woven open cup, fitted to branches, constructed of variety of natural small fibers. Female alone incubates.

Male American Redstart at nest.

Both sexes feed chicks, each parent typically making 50% of food-provisioning trips.

American Redstart hatchlings in nest.

Eyes open to narrow slits at 3 days of age, at same time wing-feather papillae appear. Flight-feathers break through sheathes at Day 6, and Juvenile plumage is worn by Day 8.

Adult female American Redstart with fledgling.

Fledglings typically have substantial subcutaneous fat at time of fledging and weigh about as much as adults. Wings and tail are about half grown at time of fledging.

Adult female American Redstart with fledgling.

Attending adults provide most food during first week after fledging, and continue to feed chicks for up to 3 wk. Parents usually divide brood after chicks have left nest; thus each parent feeds only particular fledglings.

Adult male American Redstart.

Gleans prey, making short hovering maneuvers to snatch prey from leaves, often tumbles aerobatically while chasing prey flushed from foliage, and makes short sallies into air to catch flying prey.

Adult male American Redstart.

Both male and female move rapidly while foraging. Spreads and displays (“flashes”) wings and tail, presumably to flush prey.

Adult male American Redstart.

Bathes by flicking water sideways with bill and shaking water over body with wings while breast is immersed in water. Also bathes by fluttering wings rapidly against wet foliage.

American Redstart in flight.

Note "clublike" appearance of tail, and patches of yellow on basal portion of outer tail feathers.

Adult male American Redstart with 2 redstart and 1 Brown-headed Cowbird nestling (larger chick on right).

The Brown-headed Cowbird can successfully parasitize the American Redstart (e.g., redstarts accept cowbird eggs at some nests and feed cowbird fledglings).

Adult female American Redstart feeding young Brown-headed Cowbird.

By the time Brown-headed Cowbird young are near independence, they may be much larger and heavier than redstart foster parents.

Recommended Citation

Sherry, T. W., R. T. Holmes, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2016). American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.