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Common Redstart Picture

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The Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) or just Redstart 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).

It is a summer visitor in Europe. Its winter quarters are in north Africa. The Redstart is common in Great Britain but in Ireland it is very local.

The male Redstarts first arrive early in April, often a few days in advance of the females. It is a bird of the woodlands and open park land, especially where the timber is old enough to supply cracks and crannies suitable for its nest. Five or six light blue eggs are laid during May, and a second brood is rare.

In many of its habits and actions the Redstart shows an affinity to the European Robin. It has the same general carriage, and chat-like behaviour, and is the same size at 14 cm (5.4 in) length.

The rich chestnut tail, from which it and other redstarts get their names ("start"? is an old word for "?tail"?), is always in motion. Among European birds, only the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus) has a similar tail.


The male in summer has a slate-grey head and upperparts, except the rump and tail, which, like the flanks, underwing coverts and axillaries are orange-chestnut. The forehead and supercilium are white; the sides of the face and throat are black. The wings and the two central tail feathers are brown. The orange on the flanks shades to almost white on the belly. The bill and legs are black. In autumn, broad margins obscure the colours of the male, giving a washed-out appearance.

The female is browner, with paler underparts; she lacks the black and slate, and her throat is whitish.

The male's song is similar to that of the Robin, but never more than a prelude, since it has an unfinished, feeble ending.

The Redstart feeds like a flycatcher, making aerial sallies after passing insects, and most of its food consists of winged insects. The call is chat-like and the alarm a plaintive single note, wheet, like that of the Winter Wren.

This species appears only distinctly related to other Phoenicurus redstarts. Its ancestors were apparently the first redstarts to spread to Europe; they seem to have diverged from the Black Redstart group some 3 mya, during the Piacenzian (Ertan 2006). Genetically, the European species are still fairly compatible and produce hybrids that appear to be healthy and fertile, but they are separated by different behavior and ecological requirements (Grosch 2004).

Engraving of Redstart.

2 subspecies are today accepted. Nominate phoenicurus is found all over Europe and reaches into Siberia. To the southeast, subspecies samamisicus is found from the Crimean Peninsula through Turkey, the Middle East, and into Central Asia. It is slightly smaller than Asian phoenicurus and has white webs in the remiges to some extent, forming an indistinct but conspicuous wing-patch similar to the one seen in other Phoenicurus species. This patch is also found in juvenile males, and sometimes in adult females. The subspecies intergrade widely in Turkey and the southern Balkans.(Snow et al. 1998)

A hypermelanistic morph of samamisicus is known as morpha incognita. In these male birds, the white on the face is black instead, as are the upper back and the shoulders.(Snow et al. 1998)

See also
  • Redstart

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