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American Redstart
Setophaga ruticilla
– Family
Authors: Sherry, Thomas W., and Richard T. Holmes

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Adult male American Redstart, Michigan, May
Fig. 1. Distribution of the American Redstart.

A small, lively paruline warbler, the American Redstart is unforgettable for its conspicuous pirouettes, acrobatic fly-catching sorties, and bright orange-on-black plumage—yellow-on-gray in females. The brightly colored “flash patterns,” which the redstart displays while fanning its tail and drooping its wings, appear to flush prey from vegetation. Flattened beak with well-developed rictal bristles and proportionately large wing and tail area enable in-flight pursuit of insect prey. This warbler is also conspicuous vocally, especially during the breeding season, by its series of high-pitched song phrases sung in a variety of song types and patterns. The fact that the plumage of yearling males resembles that of the female has elicited interest among behavioral and evolutionary biologists.

Corresponding with its broad geographic range (Fig. 1), this species occupies a wide variety of open wooded habitats in summer, including secondary forests, fencerows, and deciduous woodlands. In winter, it is found in virtually any low-to mid-elevation habitat with woods or trees, including mangroves (especially black mangroves, Avicennia), primary forest, secondary forest, coffee and citrus plantations, and even isolated trees in residential urban areas.

American Redstart populations are still locally abundant in much of their breeding range, particularly where appropriate habitat remains. Populations have declined in the latter half of the twentieth century, however, within widely distributed breeding regions, especially in some fragmented and urbanized landscapes. These declines probably result from loss or deterioration of preferred habitats on the breeding and possibly also the wintering grounds, although this remains to be confirmed.