Redstarts and Whitestarts

The IOC listing has 15 species called Redstarts in family Muscicapidae, the Old World Chats and Robins. It also has a Blackstart listed amongst the Chats. Family Parulidae, the New World Warblers, has the American Redstart plus 12 species which they call Whitestarts. A little confusing!



Common Redstart (right) prefers open, mature woodland with good horizontal visibility. They prefer to nest on the edge of woodland clearings. In the UK they are mainly found in upland areas.


Black Redstarts (left) don't like the woodland so they nest in buildings and crevices. They originally inhabited stony ground in mountains, particularly cliffs, but have adapted to take advantage of areas close to human habitation.

Whenever we stay in Wengen, Switzerland, which is at an altitiude of 1300 metres, Black Redstarts are readily seen in the meadows close to human habitation and farming activity.

Looking at some of the other species, the Blue-fronted is found at about 3200 m, Guldenstadt’s at 3600 to 5200 m and Moussier’s at 3000 to 4000 m which supports the view that they are birds of the mountainous regions.


I saw quite a few Moussier’s Redstarts (right) in the Atlas mountains when we were in Morocco. They were all in rocky, stony habitats. They were catching insects in the air and on the ground.



Collared Whitestart (left) in Costa Rica is called the Collared Redstart in the local field guide. It is common in the highlands between 1500 m and the timberline.

I photographed it at about 2500 m on the trail above the Mountain Savegra Hotel.

Painted Whitestart (right) nests among the rocks and grass tufts between 1500 and 2500 m.

I photographed this one as we walked along a narrow, rather precarious path along the hillside in Carr Canyon, Arizona.



ThIs bird (below,left) is found in the desert areas of North Africa and Asia. It nests in rocky crevices and feeds on isects which it takes from the ground. Robert D got some excellent photographs during a birding trip to Israel and kindly made the images available to me.


Concluding Comments.

The ancestors of the various species of Redstarts are thought to have begun to diverge from about 3 mya onwards and spread throughout much of Eurasia from 1.5 mya onward.

Although listed in the same genus the Black Redstart is not very closely related to the Common Redstart. They are separated by different behaviour and ecological requirements. The Common Redstart likes woodland and the Black Redstart does not.