Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

French: Rougequeue à front blanc
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyMuscicapidae
GenusPhoenicurus (1)
SizeLength: c. 14 cm (2)
Weight11 - 23 g (2)

The common redstart is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A slim, striking bird, the common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) has a distinctive bright orange-rufous rump and tail (2) (3) (4), which are particularly conspicuous in flight and during this species’ characteristic tail-quivering displays (3) (5). The male common redstart has bluish-grey upperparts, a black throat, and a black face except for a white forehead and a white stripe extending back from above the eyes. The common redstart is usually orange-rufous on the underparts, shading to buff or white on the belly (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). The undertail and wings are brownish (4) (6) (6), and the two central tail feathers are blackish-brown. The bill and legs are black (2) (4).

The female common redstart is generally duller, mid-brown to grey-brown on the upperparts, and buff-white on the underparts, which are tinged and streaked with orange (2) (3) (5). The rump and tail are orange-red, less bright than the male, and the tail has dark central tail feathers (2) (6) (7). The female also has a narrow, pale whitish ring around the eyes, a thin, pointed, dark bill and blackish legs (2) (3) (7). The juvenile redstart is brownish all over the body, with buff spotting. Like the adults, the tail of the juvenile is orange-red (2).

Formerly thought to be a member of the thrush family, the common redstart is now commonly considered to belong the Muscicapidae, or old world flycatchers (1) (4). Two subspecies are recognised, Phoenicurus phoenicurus phoenicurus and Phoenicurus phoenicurus samamiscus (2) (4). The latter subspecies differs slightly in appearance by the presence of a white wing panel, formed by the white edges of the secondary and tertial wing feathers (2).

The common redstart is distributed across the western Palearctic, where it is generally widespread in Europe, becoming less common throughout Asia, where it is found as far as northwest China (3) (6).

Phoenicurus phoenicurus phoenicurus breeds in Europe and northwest Africa, east to central Siberia and northern Mongolia. It typically winters in Africa. Phoenicurus phoenicurus samamiscus breeds from the south Balkans and Greece, east to Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and Iran, and generally winters in northeast Africa and across the Arabian Peninsula (2).

The common redstart usually inhabits areas of open forest and woodland, particularly old oak woodland, as well as parks, large gardens and cemeteries in urban areas (2) (3) (5) (6). It has also adapted to breed in intermediate habitats, such as heaths and commons, along streams and ditches, and in open, hilly country with old stone walls and buildings (2) (8). Traditionally managed orchards are an important breeding habitat in central Europe (9). 

The common redstart preferentially forages in areas of low, sparse vegetation where prey is more accessible, such as under trees at the edges of woodland and in freshly mown meadows (9).

Adults and larvae of a wide variety of invertebrates make up the majority of the common redstart’s diet, although it will also feed on berries, fruits and seeds (2) (3) (5). It typically forages from bushes or the lower branches of trees, flying out to pick prey items from the ground and returning to the perch to feed. It very rarely probes or searches in the leaf-litter. The common redstart also makes short sallies after flying insects, and will also pick prey from trunks, branches and leaves, sometimes hovering briefly near vegetation to seek out prey (2) (3).

Breeding occurs between April and July (2) (3). The male common redstart arrives at the breeding sites first and sets up a territory, followed by the female several days later (4). The male performs various courtship displays to attract a female, including crouching and facing a potential mate with its wings raised and the tail fanned, displaying the bright orange-red colouration. It will also show off potential nest sites to the female by perching on or near possible nest holes (8). The nest is typically placed one to six metres above the ground, in a hole in a tree, an old stump, among rocks, or in the wall of a building or a nest box. The nest is usually a loose cup of grass, roots, moss and other vegetation, lined with hair and feathers (2) (3).

The female common redstart generally lays a clutch of 5 to 7 eggs (2) (3) (10), which are incubated for 12 to 14 days. The chicks remain in the nest for around 12 to 15 days before they fledge, and are dependant on the adults for a further 10 to 14 days after leaving the nest (2) (3). Northern and southern populations of the common redstart exhibit different breeding strategies, with populations at more northerly latitudes raising a single clutch per breeding season, compared with two clutches in the more southern parts of this species’ range (2) (10). 

The common redstart is a migratory species, leaving the breeding grounds towards the end of August to move to its wintering range in either Africa or the Arabian Peninsula (2) (3).

Although the common redstart is not currently considered at risk of extinction, it appears to be declining in some parts of its range (1). In central Europe, the common redstart is declining in agricultural areas, primarily due to the destruction of traditionally managed orchards (9).

Changes in woodland management throughout its range, such as reducing grazing and tree felling, may potentially allow regeneration of under-storey plants, thereby reducing the suitability of current foraging and breeding habitats (11).

The common redstart is listed as a UK species of conservation concern (11), and is included on Appendix II of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, which aims to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitat (12).

Studies in central Europe have identified that areas of high, dense vegetation are unsuited to ground-foraging birds, such as the common redstart. Several conservation measures have been proposed to benefit populations of the common redstart in these areas, including preserving patches of sparse vegetation and creating new patches close to potential breeding sites, as well as integrating such practices into agri-environment schemes. An additional suggested management measure is to mow small patches of dense meadow throughout the breeding season to maintain access to suitable foraging areas (9).  

Find out more about the common redstart and other birds:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Avibirds European Birdguide Online - Common redstart (March, 2011)
    http://www.avibirds.com/euhtml/Redstart.html
  4. MobileReference (2008) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of European Birds. MobileReference, Boston.
  5. RSPB - Common redstart (March, 2011)
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/r/redstart/index.aspx
  6. Brazil, M. (2009) Birds of East Asia. A & C Black Publishers Ltd, London.
  7. Dempsey, E. and O’Clery, M. (2002) The Complete Guide to Ireland’s Birds. 2ndEdition. Gill & Macmillan Ltd, Dublin. 
  8. Bird Guides - Common redstart (March, 2011)
    http://www.birdguides.com/species/species.asp?sp=130096
  9. Martinez, N., Jenni, L., Wyss, E. and Zbinden, N. (2010) Habitat structure versus food abundance: the importance of sparse vegetation for the common redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Journal of Ornithology, 151: 297-307.
  10. Pokert, J. and Zajíc, J. (2005) The breeding biology of the common redstart, Phoenicurus phoenicurus, in the Central European pine forest. Folia Zoologica, 54(1-2): 111-122.
  11. Snowdonia National Park - Redstart (March, 2011)
    http://eryri.peak1.titaninternet.co.uk/hafan/conserving/biodiversity/priority_species/birds/redstart.htm
  12. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (March, 2011)
    http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/104.htm