Male American redstart. (Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren/Wikimedia Commons)

Male American redstart. (Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren/Wikimedia Commons)

Nature Nut

Rosamund Pojar

American Redstarts are busy nesting and flitting around in our deciduous (aspen, birch and cottonwood) forests. Redstarts are warblers but they behave more like flycatchers as they flit acrobatically from their perches in mid-canopy to catch flying insects.

The mature males are glossy black with bright orange patches on the sides of their breasts, their wings and two on their tails. Sometimes the colour is tinged with red.

Females are greyer in colour with pale yellow patches. The name ‘start’ comes from an old word meaning tail.

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As they go about flycatching, they fan their tail feathers open and droop their wings to stir up the insects. In doing so, they show the brightly coloured patches, which, when combined with their acrobatic pirouettes, means they resemble butterflies.

Often referred to as “the butterflies of the bird world,” Latin Americans may also call them ‘‘mariposas’’ or, in Venezuela, ‘’candelitas.’’

Their song is highly variable and very frustrating to learn. It is quite wispy and high-pitched compared to other warblers.

They are neotropical migrants that spend the winters in Central America and parts of South America.