Beak of the Week – American Redstart

American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
Family: Parulidae

It’s a monarch butterfly, it’s a flying jack-o-lantern, no it’s an American Redstart! The mature male American Redstart looks like it’s perpetually dressed for Halloween with its stark black head, breast, back, wings, and tail, and bright orange patches on the flanks, wings, and sides of the tail to contrast the white belly. The females and immature birds are more subdued with gray heads, breasts, backs, wings, and tails, and yellow patches. The patches are thought to startle and help capture prey when redstarts flash their tails and move their wings.

These birds will catch insects in midair, a less common behavior among other warbler species. This behavior is more common among males during breeding season. They will also eat insects off of leaves, twigs, and other surfaces. The American Redstart’s diet consists mainly of insects such as flies, moths, caterpillars, aphids, spiders, and craneflies. They will eat small fruits near the end of summer. During breeding season, redstarts will forage alone, but not too far from their mate. Males are usually monogamous and will defend the territory around the nest from other males by singing and sometimes flying in small circles. Female redstarts will sometimes chase other females out of their territories. Parent redstarts will divide the work, with each parent caring for half of the chicks.

The American Redstart passes through the Houston Gulf region during migration.

By Sarah Lefoley
Photos by Greg Lavaty

Read about other Texas birds in our Bird Gallery!

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