Photo: Donald Phillips/Audubon Photography Awards

American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla

Warblers in general are often called "the butterflies of the bird world," but the Redstart may live up to that nickname more than any other species. This beautiful warbler flits about very actively in the trees, usually holding its wings and tail partly spread, as if to show off their patches of color. At times it feeds more like a flycatcher than a typical warbler, hovering among the foliage and often flying out to grab insects in mid-air.
Conservation status Still widespread and very common, but surveys suggest that numbers may be declining slightly.
Family Wood Warblers
Habitat Second-growth woods, river groves. Breeds in open deciduous and mixed woodland, preferring edges of forests or second growth. Attracted also to roadside trees, shrubby and tree-lined stream banks, and ponds. Will nest in second-growth maples, birch, and aspen following fire in coniferous forests. In the Northwest, prefers willow and alder thickets. In winter in the tropics, found in lowland woods.
Warblers in general are often called "the butterflies of the bird world," but the Redstart may live up to that nickname more than any other species. This beautiful warbler flits about very actively in the trees, usually holding its wings and tail partly spread, as if to show off their patches of color. At times it feeds more like a flycatcher than a typical warbler, hovering among the foliage and often flying out to grab insects in mid-air.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages very actively, often flying out to catch insects in mid-air or hovering to take them from foliage. Flycatches much more than most warblers, drooping its wings, fanning its tail, and leaping high in the air. Males feed higher and make more mid-air sallies than do females early in the nesting season. Does not cling to tips of branches while hanging upside down as do many warblers. Holds large caterpillars and moths in the bill and bangs them on perch before eating.


Eggs

4, sometimes 2-5. Off-white, with brown or gray marks. Incubation by female only, 11-12 days. Often parasitized by cowbirds. Young: Fed by both parents. Leave the nest at 9 days old. The parents divide the brood into 2 parts, each parent attending only half the fledglings. Normally 1 brood per season.


Young

Fed by both parents. Leave the nest at 9 days old. The parents divide the brood into 2 parts, each parent attending only half the fledglings. Normally 1 brood per season.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects including beetles, caterpillars, moths, leafhoppers, aphids, midges, crane flies; also spiders anddaddy longlegs. Also eats some seeds and berries.


Nesting

Males sometimes mate with more than one female and raise 2-3 broods simultaneously. Males perform a frequent boundary display flight toward rivals, with stiffened wingbeats and a glide back to the original perch in a semicircle. Male displays to female during courtship by fluffing plumage, raising crown feathers, spreading wings and tail, and bowing. Nest site picked by female, usually in fork of tree, 4-70' above the ground; rarely on the ground. Open cup nest (built by female) of plant fibers, grass, rootlets, decorated with lichen, birch bark, and feathers; lined with feathers. Sometimes will use old nests of other birds.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Migrates mostly at night. Fall migration begins early, with many southbound in August. Small numbers of strays appear throughout the west, and a few may winter in southern California.

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Migration

Migrates mostly at night. Fall migration begins early, with many southbound in August. Small numbers of strays appear throughout the west, and a few may winter in southern California.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
5 or 6 high-pitched notes or 2-note phrases, ending with an upward or downward inflection: chewy-chewy-chewy, chew-chew-chew.

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