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Black Redstart { Birds of Europe}

Updated on June 8, 2015

Black Redstart {male} Phoenicurus ochrurus

Taken at Sultanpur National Park India.
Taken at Sultanpur National Park India. | Source


The Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros, belongs to the Order of birds known as the Passerifromes and the family Turdidae {Thrush's} within that order. The genus name of Phoenicurus derives from the Greek phoinix meaning crimson +oura =tail. The specific name ochruros derives from the Greek ohkros=yellow+oura =tail.

In the UK it is placed on the Amber list of conservation concern {losses of between 25-50% over the last forty years or so} with less than a hundred pairs breeding in the UK. It is classed in the UK as a migrant/resident breeder and passage winter visitor,the winter population is estimated to be around 400 individuals. It is the sub species 'gibraltariensis' that is found in the UK.

In Europe it is not a species of concern with an estimated population of between 4-8.6 million pairs The Gaelic name for the bird is Earr-deargan-dubh. The Croatian name is planinska crvenorepka { Kucna crvenorepka}, the Irish name is Earrdheagan dubh,and the Welsh name is Tingoch Du.

Evermann's or rufous backed Redstart.P.erythronotus

Originally posted to Flickr upoaded to Commons by itshears.
Originally posted to Flickr upoaded to Commons by itshears. | Source

White throated Redstart P.shisticeps.

Taken at Sandhakphu North West Bengal.
Taken at Sandhakphu North West Bengal. | Source

What are Redstarts.?

Redstarts are a group of eleven species belonging to the genus Phoenicurus.They are sometimes placed in the family Muscicapidae and others place them in the thrush family Turdidae. They take their name from the orange/red tail,'start' ,from 'steort'an old English word for tail. There are two other genera Chaimarronis and Rhyacornis that many believe should be included with the Phoenicurus.

However, there at present eleven species which include przevalski's redtatr. Phoenicurus alaschanicus. Evermann's Redstart P.erythronotus {pictured right.} The Blue capped Redstart.P caerueocephla,the Common Redstart P.phoenicurus.** . Hodgeson's Redstart P hodgsoni. White throated Redstart P.schisticeps.{ Pictured right} Duarian Redstart p. auroreu. Moussier's Redstart.P. moussieri. Guldenstadt's Redtart. P.erythogastrus. The Blue fronted Redstart. P frontalis and the subject of our review the black redstart P.ochruros.

They are all insectivores,the males more brightly coloured than the females with variations of red,black,white and blue. The females usually light to mousy brown with a red tail. here we review the Black Redstart P.Ochruros sub species gibraltariensis.

As always we commence with a description of the species under review.

** this species has already been reviewed in this series.

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland Richard Crossley
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland Richard Crossley | Source

Description of the Black Redstart

At a glance.---About the same size as the European Robin and has a similar shape. In all plumages has a rusty red under tail coverts and tail,which frequently shivers. Adult males are glossy black on the head,back and under parts. has a small white patch on the primary feathers.

Juvenile and adult females are inseperable being a mousey grey-brown colour all over. very similar to the female/juvenile of the Common Redstart in this plumage,though the latter tend to be a more beige-brown colour.

In more detail-- the Black Redstart in breeding plumage has the upper parts slate greyish,the rump and upper tail coverts chestnut,wings brown,with the secondary feathers broadly bordered with white on the outer webs. The tail is chestnut with two central feathers brown. The forehead,face,chin,throat and breast ,axillary feathers and under wing coverts black.The belly and flanks a buff colouring. The bill black the feet blackish and the iris brown.

The female is much duller than the male,being smoky brown above and slightly paler below.The white margins to the secondary feathers sordid,the chestnut of the rump and tail suffused brownish

Video courtesy of Jose Francisco Calvo Standard You Tube License

General and Historical information

Originally a bird of mountain regions,the bird has spread widely across Europe and had learned how to utilize buildings as nesting locations. It breeds regularly at Coventry cathedral {English Midlands} and the Natural History Museum London {see below},as well as on other industrial sites such as gas works.

Seebolm 1800's, relates to us that birds which come to the UK make the trip from Holland where they are plentiful. In the UK they breed in southern England and the Midlands with isolated populations breeding in the north west of England.Some winter around the south,east and west coasts of England and Wales. In Europe they occur in western,central and southern regions of the continent.

Breeding birds and spring passage migrants occur between March and May. Autumn passage migrants arrive in the UK during September to November peaking in October.. Winter birds {about 400 individuals} are present between late autumn and early spring.

In its general habits the Black Redstart is very like the European Robin,but especially in its frequent Characteristic stoop,accompanied by an upward jerk of the tail and its alarm note 'tek,tek.tek'. It is happy to frequent human habitation and its environs such as farmyards ,orchards and gardens. Howard Saunders relates that " Even in London one frequented the grounds of the Natural History Museum,South Kensington {London} from November 1885 until the snowfall on January 6,1896.

The food of this species consists of insects and their larvae,spiders,small crustaceans,and they have occasionally been observed eating small garden fruits. Winged insects are caught in the air,after the manner of the common species.,beetles,larvae and spiders it seeks on the ground,especially on earth that has been recently turned over.

The song of this species is simple,a few notes which are full and rich. The flight of the Black Redstart is light and quick,and it rises and falls in its sportive revolutions. with much elegance and grace. In walking they are very erect and they oscillate the tail in the manner as the other species and have also a dipping motion of the body,especially if alarmed.

Taken at Bhopal Macdhya Pradesh India.
Taken at Bhopal Macdhya Pradesh India. | Source
Illustration by Alfred Gatty {1809-1873}
Illustration by Alfred Gatty {1809-1873} | Source

Black Redstart in captivity

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity {with a few licensed exceptions} it was a common pastime,and Bird catchers made a good living out of procuring the birds by any means and selling them to bird keepers and to the market as food. As this is an important part of avian history the next couple of paragraphs relate to that period.

Butler, reveals that " Although the bird is frequently exhibited at the bird show of the 'Ornis Society in Berlin',the Black Redstart seems to have rarely put in an appearance at English exhibitions. I have however, seen it at the Crystal Palace Show. I can say nothing experimentally of this species,doubtless it would be easy to keep,and would make an engaging pet.:

He then goes on to give the following advise to bird keepers. " It ought to be turned loose into an aviary.Small insectivorous birds when permanently kept in cages,rarely sing and usually die of apoplexy,at least that is my experience,excepting the case of the Skylark, Wood-lark **, Nightingale and sometimes the Robin, the last mentioned usually singing more or less even when caged,but rarely living long in captivity. So long as any part of your domain is infested with cockroaches,you need never question the practicability of keeping Redstarts alive,no matter whether your aviary be warmed or unheated. If you can give them their daily beetle trap to forage in ,Redstarts will live,but if possible extreme frosts should be avoided"

**This species has already been reviewed in this series.


Taken in Spain.
Taken in Spain. | Source

Breeding nest and eggs.

The following account was recorded by Mr. Stirling in his book the 'Birds of Sherwood Forest',pages 67-68. he states-" My first acquaintance with it was the discovery on May 17,1854, of a nest in a thorn hedge by the side of the road leading from Ollerton to Edwinstore. It was placed about four and a half feet from the ground,and was constructed of dry grasses,intermingled with a little moss and lined with hair. When I found it it contained four eggs,had it remained undisturbed,I have no doubt they would have increased to the usual number of six,as the female was on the nest. As it was I appropriated them as a valuable addition to my collection" { This was not illegal at the time}.

Mr Stirling went on to reveal " This,however, was not a solitary instance,for two years later on May18,1856,another nest was taken from the same hedge near the place from which I had taken the previous one. It contained one egg which was brought to me by a finder. A third nest was taken the next day at Ollerton. It was placed at the side of a cattle hovel,among the thorns with which the upright framework was interlaced and was constructed of dry grass only,and lined, as the others, with hair. The second nest had moss mixed with the grass ,like the first"

the nest of the Black Redstart,is usually placed like that of the much commoner species,in holes in walls,clefts of rocks, but other times on rafters in sheds and out buildings or niches and shelves in old castles,summer houses and in buildings of an industrial nature.No particular effort is made to conceal it.

Black Restart at nest built on the rafters


Egg of the Black Redstart

Museum Wiesbaden Germany
Museum Wiesbaden Germany | Source

Nest and eggs continued.

The structure itself is externally rough and loose,being composed of twigs,grasses,rootlets and moss. The lining is neat and tidy and well rounded,of hair and sometimes feathers and cobwebs.The eggs four to six,are glossy white,occasionally with a faint bluish tint and more rarely minutely speckled at the large end with brown.

The eggs are incubated by the female for twelve to sixteen days and are ready to leave the nest in a further twelve to nineteen days depending on the weather and availability of food. nestlings are spotted above and below but as soon as they acquire their adult plumage they resemble the female. Their full colouring not being attained until the second year.

Juvenile's resemble females in plumage.


Another account of a nest

The Black Redstart,has never been a common breeder in the UK,but reports of nests have regularly been reported . There is another account from Dumfriesshire Scotland { which published in the 'Zoologist' } in 1890 by Mr.O Hammond,he states." A lady ,a near neighbour of mine, who was fond of observing birds tells me about the 12th of June last year,she found a nest of a Black Redstart about half a mile from Maxwelton in Dumfriesshire . The nest was in a dyke {wall},by the side of the road on a high hill,called 'Crossford'. The young were hatched.She tells me that she often went to watch the birds,both with a field glass and without one,that they let her very near,that she is certain of their identity,and that they were Black Redstart,and not the Common Redstart."


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice ,

      Hi Deb,Your welcome, they are beautiful birds. I am aware of your species. They too,are beauties. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Another beautiful bird. We have the American Redstart, classed as a wood warbler. Thanks for this intro!


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