Common redstart: how to identify and where they live
We take a look at one of the UK's summer visitors, the redstart
What are common redstarts?
Common redstarts are colourful avian summer visitors to the UK. Their scientific name is Phoenicurus phoenicurus, which is an example of a tautonym.
Where are common redstarts found?
Together with two other charismatic summer migrants, the pied flycatcher and wood warbler, the species is closely associated with Welsh sessile oakwoods. The woods at RSPB Ynys-hir in Wales, where the Springwatch team was based for a number of years, are a fine example of the habitat and now is the best time to savour it.
Though redstarts occur throughout the British Isles, nowadays they are a distinctly local speciality in the south and east. They become more common the further the north and west you go, where they frequent open deciduous woods, orchards, and heaths and moorland with scattered trees.
See redstarts at Ynys-hir RSPB, Powys; the New Forest, Hampshire; Coombes Valley RSPB, Staffs; Strid Wood, Yorkshire; Carstramon Wood, Galloway.
How to identify redstart song
These members of the chat family invariably seem restless, and have a quirky, tail-trembling character. A good way to locate them is by voice. Both sexes call loudly – a penetrating ‘hoo-eet’ – and from April to mid-June the males sing from the tops of trees.
Their melody is a rich, sweet rattle consisting of two or three phrases, starting strongly but then usually fizzling out. The naturalist WH Hudson described it as “only the prelude of a song – a promise never performed”.
What do red starts look like?
With their red breasts, the male common redstarts have a look of the robin about them. They also have red tail feathers, a slate-grey back with black faces and throats.
Females are a much duller overall.
When do they arrive in the UK
With his tail a quivering russet blur, a male redstart in full breeding plumage energises his chosen oakwood glade as he flits in search of food for his hungry young. He arrived from his African winter quarters in April, flashing his white forehead from potential nest holes in tree-trunks to prick the interest of the duller, browner female.
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How big are redstarts?
Redstarts are about 14cm in length, with a wingspan of between 20-24cm. they usually weigh between 11-19g
What do redstarts eat?
Their diet usually includes insects, but they are also partial to berries
Main image © Getty Images
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