The Painted Redstart is a common inhabitant of pine-oak woodlands in the foothills and mountains of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. In the northern part of its range it prefers the bottoms of deeply shaded canyons with permanent water, while farther south it is more likely to be found in arid woodlands.
This bird is often heard before seen; its call is unlike that of any other North American wood-warbler and rather more reminiscent of a Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) call. Once seen, however, the Painted Redstart cannot be confused with any other species. It is easily identified by its bold black, red and white coloration and its conspicuous behavior of creeping along branches while spreading its wings and fanning its tail.
With its flashy habit of showing its broad, white wing patches and spreading its tail to reveal gleaming white outer rectrices, the Painted Redstart earns its place among Myioborus species, also known as whitestarts. The behavior may be connected to this redstart's method of feeding-startling prey into movement as it gleans, hover gleans, or hawks insects on the ground, on tree trunks, or among branches and twigs.
The female is difficult to separate from her partner, as males and females share plumage characteristics in all seasons. In addition, research has determined that female Painted Redstarts sing; some forms of the song may be undetectable from the males' song.
Two species of cowbirds (Molothrus) are known to parasitize this redstart's nest, especially in dry seasons.
Despite its distinctiveness and abundance in appropriate habitat, relatively little is known about this engaging bird. A 1974 study by J. Marshall and R. P. Balda is the primary resource on the breeding ecology of the Painted Redstart; since 1992, Piotr G. Jablonski also has studied its foraging behavior in Arizona (e.g., Jablonski Jablonski 1993, Jablonski 1994, Jablonski 1998, and Jablonski 1999; Jablonski and Strausfeld 1998).