BLACK REDSTART (Phoenicurus ochruros)

FAMILY: MUSCICAPIDAE (Old world flycatchers and chats)

The black redstart is a small bird that is part of the same subfamily as robins, redstarts, and stonechats. Naturally, these birds breed in craggy, rocky habitats and cliffs but have adapted to survive in our cities, with greater London hosting a significant population. While these birds are winter visitors, the UK has a small population of breeding black redstarts that remain all year round.

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Estimated number of breeding pairs: 58

Listen to black redstart song:


The black redstart is a similar size to a robin, with a longer quivering tail. Males have a light grey body with a black face, throat and bill, and white streaks on the wing. They differ from common redstarts in that they have a grey breast compared to the red breast of a redstart. Females and juveniles are grey/brown all over. Both sexes sport a bright red tail with a single black band down the middle.

Average Length: 14.5 cm

Average Lifespan: 5 Years

Average Wingspan: 23 - 26 cm

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Black redstart diet

Black redstarts are mainly insectivorous and feed on a variety of invertebrates but will occasionally eat seeds and berries. They feed their nestlings a diet that consists of a variety of different invertebrates, including woodlice, spiders and caterpillars.

How to feed black redstarts: Create an insect-friendly garden by allowing areas of grass to grow long and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals to remove weeds and insects.

Black redstart breeding and nesting information

The UK only has a small population of breeding black redstarts as they are usually winter visitors. While searching for a mate the males will sing from very high song posts, including the tops of buildings in urban areas. Naturally, the female will build a cup-shaped nest of twigs, moss, and feathers nest in cavities on natural rock faces and caves. However, in the UK they mainly nest on human-made surfaces. Black Redstarts will often have 2 broods, especially if the first fails, and each brood will contain 4-6 eggs. The female alone will incubate the eggs until they hatch, then they are fed by both parents until they leave the nest after 2 weeks.  After leaving the nest the fledglings are still supported by both parents for a further 3 weeks.

Threats to black redstart

The biggest threat to the black redstart is the development of our cities, which leads to the loss of cavities and imperfections in which they nest. As they nest in industrial areas, such as along railways and quarries, they are also at risk of accidental removal or damage. Due to the low breeding numbers in the UK, any loss through development could be detrimental to the UK’s population. To help maintain breeding sites in London roofs made from crushed concrete and brick have been installed to provide nesting sites.

How you can help

Create an insect-friendly garden by growing insect-friendly plants, creating log piles, allowing areas of grass to grow, and planting wildflowers.  

If you live near a black redstart population, petition your local areas to install green roofs on buildings to provide nesting sites for the bird.

Avoid using chemicals to remove weeds and insects from your garden, and petition your local council to do the same!

Fascinating Fact

This black redstart is sometimes known as the ‘bombsite bird’ due to the significant population increase following the second world war. The damaged building provided the perfect rocky outcrops for this bird to nest on.
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British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Black redstart | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: (Accessed: 07 August 2023).

    Grant, G. (n.d.). Extensive Green Roofs in London (Vol. 4).

RSPB (no date) Black Redstart Bird facts: Phoenicurus Ochruros, The RSPB. Available at: (Accessed: 07 August 2023).  

Sedláček, O., Fuchs, R., Exnerová, A. (2004), Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus and black redstart P. ochruros in a mosaic urban environment: neighbours or rivals?. Journal of Avian Biology, 35: 336-343.

Svensson., L (2020) Collins Bird Guide 2nd Edn, Willian Collins ,Great Britain. P.280.

Weggler, M. (2006). Constraints on, and determinants of, the annual number of breeding attempts in the multi-brooded Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros. Ibis, 148(2), 273–284.

Woodward,I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D.A.& Noble, D. (2020). Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and theUnited Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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