The Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the Thrush family (Turdidae), but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher (Muscicapidae).
Male Phoenicurus ochruros rufiventris in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Female or immature European Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis)
It is a widespread breeder in south and central Europe, but very localised in Great Britain. It is resident in the milder parts of its range, but northern birds winter in southern Europe or north Africa. It nests in crevices or holes in buildings.
It is more common in Britain as a bird of passage and winter visitor. On passage it is fairly common on the east and south coasts. Migrant Black Redstarts arrive in Britain in October or November and pass on or remain to winter, returning eastward in March or April[verification needed].
Reports of Common Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) returning early from their winter quarters sometimes refer to this species[verification needed].
The Black Redstart is 13-14.5cm in length. The male has no chestnut on the flanks nor white on the forehead. The female is greyer than the Common Redstart, and at any age the grey axillaries and under wing-coverts are distinctive. In the Common Redstart these are buff or chestnut.
The "fire" of the tail labels the bird as a Redstart, but it may be distinguished from the Common Redstart, which is the same size, at 14 cm length, by its sootier appearance, even when the distinctive white wing patch is not apparent, as in immature males.
They typically frequent cliffs and stony ground, but in Britain often breed and winter in industrial complexes that have the bare areas and cliff-like buildings it favours. It will catch passing insects in flight, and migrants may or hunt in the tide-wrack for flies or tiny crustaceans. Its quick ducks of head and body are robin-like, and its tail is often flicked. The male has a rattling song and a tick call.
This species belongs to a Eurasian clade which also includes the Daurian Redstart, Hodgson's Redstart, the White-winged Redstart, and maybe the Ala Shan Redstart. The present species' ancestors diverged from about 3 mya (Late Pliocene) onwards and spread throughout much of Eurasia from 1.5 mya (Early Miocene) on (Ertan 2006). It is not very closely related to the Common Redstart. As these are separated by different behavior and ecological requirements and have not evolved fertilization barriers, the two European species can nonetheless produce apparently fertile and viable hybrids (Grosch 2004).
There are a number of subspecies which differ mainly in upperpart coloration of the adult males. They can be separated into 3 major groups, according to morphology, biogeography, and mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data (Snow et al. 1988, Ertan 2006):
phoenicuroides group: basal Central and Eastern Asian forms which diverged from the ancestral stock as the species slowly spread west (c.3-1.5 mya). Females and juveniles light.
- Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides: Tian Shan Black Redstart
Small; adult males have lower breast, belly and flanks deep rufous, wing-patch absent, sometimes white forehead. Overall quite similar to a much darker Common Redstart with black chest. Females and juveniles are similar to Common Redstart but have an overall sandier, paler color and often a distinct buff eye-ring.
Tian Shan eastwards to Mongolia.
Male Phoenicurus ochruros rufiventris at Sultanpur National Park in Gurgaon District of Haryana, India.
- Phoenicurus ochruros rufiventris: Pamir Black Redstart
Usually large; adult males like phoenicuroides, but darker overall, with black back and rufous-chestnut underside. Females with rufous tinge to underside. Exact limits with phoenicuroides unresolved.
Turkmenistan eastwards through Pamir and Alay mountains to Himalaya.
- Phoenicurus ochruros xerophilus: Chinese Black Redstart
Large; color pattern like phoenicuroides but paler. Doubtfully distinct from phoenicuroides.
China east and between ranges of preceding two.
ochruros group: Eastern European/Western Asian forms, whose lineage separated from the gibraltariensis group c.1.5-0.5 mya. Females and juveniles intermediate.
- Phoenicurus ochruros ochruros: Caucasus Black Redstart
Small, somewhat intermediate between phoenicuroides and gibraltariensis. Generally like latter, but rufous underside, white wing patch usually lacking.
Caucasus and surrounding regions.
- Phoenicurus ochruros semirufus: Levantine Black Redstart
Small; adult males somewhat similar to rufiventris except in size. Black areas extensive.
gibraltariensis group: Western European population, which formed distinct subspecies during the last ice age. Females and juveniles dark.
- Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis: European Black Redstart
Neck, upper back and shoulders dark slate gray in adult males, lighter than face and neck. Some intergradation with aterrimus.
Western Europe to Crimean Peninsula (probably) western Turkey.
- Phoenicurus ochruros aterrimus: Iberian Black Redstart
Neck, upper back and shoulders black in adult males. Some intergradation with gibraltariensis.
Iberia and adjacent North Africa.