In the UK, there exists a small group of black redstarts who reside permanently, but are joined each year by overwintering birds, passage migrants, and summer breeders. These birds prefer to live in rocky environments such as cliff ledges and gorges, and can often be found in urban areas where they frequent abandoned buildings and industrial locations.
The adult male black redstart has a striking appearance, with dark grey upperparts and almost black upperwing patterns, as well as a grey hat and deep black face. Rust red edges surround their black top tail feathers, while their rust red outer tail, rump, and lower belly highlight their black breast on the underparts. Their secondary feathers produce a noticeable white patch when their wings are closed. Approximately the same size as a robin, these birds have black legs and a slender, short beak. Adult females have black upperwings and brownish cheeks, with a dull mouse grey hue overall. Juvenile birds look similar to females, but are often darker in color with scaling on their faces that extends to their bellies. The black redstart is comprised of five subspecies, which can make identification difficult due to minute variations in plumage.
What does the Black Redstart’s voice sound like? Well, the male has a distinctive singing style that can be described as a rattling warble-like whistle. It goes something like “drrr-drrr-tawidu” and is often tentative in nature. In addition to this, the male Black Redstart also has a brief and harsh cry of “tuc-tuc” or “tsip”, which is reserved for times of alarm or aggression. So, if you’re lucky enough to hear a Black Redstart’s call, you’ll definitely know it!
What does the Black Redstart eat? The diet of a Black Redstart typically includes a variety of invertebrates like earwigs, ants, wasps, bees, grasshoppers, spiders, and worms. Additionally, they also consume flies, berries, and different types of seeds.
Where can you spot Black Redstarts?
Currently, they are mostly sighted in urban areas, particularly on deserted industrial sites in the Black Country, Birmingham, and Greater London. Some breeding pairs can also be found in Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, and Ipswich, while sightings in power plants along England’s east and south coast have been reported. They tend to prefer barren terrain with vegetation and rubble on rocky surfaces, especially if there are towering buildings, towers, or other towering abandoned structures nearby. You are more likely to see these birds during their migration in spring and autumn, and the coastal areas in the south and southwest of England are the most promising places to catch a glimpse of them.
Indicators to Observe
Distinguishing adult male black redstarts from other males of the same species is a breeze, but juveniles and females are not so easy to tell apart due to their similar appearances. However, their sitting positions can help you identify them. Unlike the redstart, which is only present in the UK between March and October and is usually found in forests, the black redstart prefers urban environments such as brownfield sites and industrial areas with few trees. Adult black redstarts can be heard and seen perched on abandoned structures or industrial infrastructure, providing a glimpse of their nesting and feeding areas.
How do Black Redstarts Reproduce?
The nest of the black redstart is shaped like a cup, constructed from loose grass and moss, and lined with feathers and hair. It can be discovered in nooks and crannies of buildings or cliff walls, or even on stone or rock heaps. From May to July, up to two broods of four to six pale blue-green eggs may be produced.
What is the Lifespan of Black Redstarts?
Black redstarts have a lifespan of up to five years, though it is possible for a tagged bird to survive beyond eight years.
The black redstart, while not endangered globally, is facing conservation concerns in the UK as it appears on the Red List for Birds. It is estimated that there are less than 100 breeding pairs in the country.