In the UK, there exists a small population of black redstarts that breed and reside in the area. Every year, these birds are joined by overwintering flocks, passage migrants, and summer breeders. The black redstart prefers to inhabit cliff ledges, gorges, rock formations, and scree environments. It is also commonly found in urban areas, where it frequents abandoned buildings, old structures, and industrial settings.
The dark grey upperparts of the adult male’s summer plumage, paired with its black upperwing patterns and grey hat with a deep black face, make this bird visually striking. Rust red edges encircle the black top tail feathers, while rust red outer tail, rump, and lower belly highlight the black breast on the underparts. Its secondary feathers on the wings produce a white patch that is most visible when the wing is closed. Overall, the bird is about the same size as a robin, with black legs and a slender, short beak. Adult females have black upperwings and brownish cheeks, with an overall dull mouse grey hue. Juvenile birds resemble females, but are often darker in color and have scaling on their faces that extends to their bellies.
The black redstart species, Phoenicurus ochruros, has five subspecies, some of which may be found in the UK. While each subspecies has slight variations in plumage, making identification challenging, they all share a preference for the unique habitats the black redstart calls home.
What does a Black Redstart sound like? Well, the male bird has a distinctive voice that can be described as a tentative rattling warble-like whistle of “drrr-drrr-tawidu”. In addition to this, he also makes a brief, harsh “tuc-tuc” or “tsip” cry when he’s feeling alarmed or aggressive. So if you hear these sounds in your backyard, you might just have a Black Redstart paying you a visit!
What do Black Redstarts eat? These birds have a varied diet that typically includes invertebrates like earwigs, ants, wasps, bees, spiders, grasshoppers, and worms. They also enjoy snacking on flies, as well as various types of berries and seeds.
Where can Black Redstarts be spotted? Nowadays, they are mainly observed in urban areas, particularly on undeveloped industrial land in the Black Country, Birmingham, and Greater London. A small number of breeding pairs can also be found in Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, and Ipswich. Moreover, there have been reports of sightings in power plants located along the east and south coasts of England. These birds are attracted to sparsely vegetated wastelands with scattered debris on rocky terrain, especially if there are nearby tall buildings, towers, or other abandoned structures. Although bird sightings are more frequent and can occur across the country during spring and fall migrations, the coastal regions of southern and southwestern England are the most promising locations for observing them.
Indicators to Keep an Eye On
Although it’s easy to distinguish adult male black redstarts from other male redstarts, it’s not as simple with juveniles or female counterparts since they have similar appearances. However, their sitting position serves as a helpful distinguishing factor. Unlike the redstart, the black redstart is a forest bird that prefers urban settings such as brownfield sites or industrial areas with limited vegetation. Adult black redstarts are usually seen and heard perched on abandoned buildings or industrial structures, allowing a view of their feeding grounds and nesting area.
How do Black Redstarts Reproduce?
Black redstarts create cup-shaped nests using grass and moss and line them with feathers and hair. These nests can be found on uneven surfaces such as cliff walls or structures, or on piles of rocks or stones on the ground. They lay four to six pale blue-green eggs up to two times between May and July.
What is the Life Expectancy of Black Redstarts?
Although black redstarts have a maximum lifespan of five years, a ringed bird has been known to survive beyond eight years.
The black redstart may not be in danger globally, but it is classified as a threatened species on the UK Red List for Birds. There are estimated to be fewer than 100 breeding pairs of this bird in the UK, highlighting the need for preservation efforts.