REDSTART (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

FAMILY: MUSCICAPIDAE (old world flycatchers and chats)

This colourful summer visitor is a temperate rainforest specialist and thrives in the mild, wet conditions these woodlands offer. They can be seen quivering their bright orange tail in western oak woodlands in the UK from April to October before they return to their wintering grounds in trans-Saharan Africa. They can be found breeding across the UK but they are rare on the island of Ireland. They move in a bobbing motion similar to a robin but they spend little time on the ground, instead favouring to stay amongst the vegetation. Declines in the 1960s and continuing population fluctuations have landed this species on the Amber list.

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Alert Status:

Amber – 1% decrease ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 135,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to Redstart song:


Redstarts are identifiable by their quivering bright orange tails, which both males and females have, and their robin-like motion. Males also have a rich red breast and grey back as well as a black face which contrasts their white forehead. Overall females are duller with grey back and heads and they lack the red breast which is replaced by grey/brown feathers. They look similar to the black redstart but only redstarts have bright red breast feathers.

Average Length: 14 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 Years

Average Wingspan: 20-24 cm

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Redstart diet

Their diet mainly consists of invertebrates such as spiders and worms but they will supplement it with berries. The best way to feed them is to 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.

Redstart breeding and nesting information

Redstarts begin breeding in late April and build a cup-shaped nest, in tree holes or cavities, out of grass and roots, but will use whatever is available in the habitat, and line it with hair and feathers. Clutch size is usually 6-7 eggs which are incubated by the female for around two weeks. The chicks then remain in the nest for a further 16-17 days before fledging. Redstarts will sometimes produce a second brood before the breeding season ends in June.

Threats to Redstarts

Redstarts underwent severe declines during the 1960s, which was thought to be caused by droughts in their wintering grounds. With climate-driven droughts continuing in areas of trans-Saharan Africa, the population could undergo sharp declines in the near future. The use of pesticides and loss of suitable habitat may also drive decreases in this population through the loss of invertebrate prey and suitable nesting holes. However, there is little evidence to suggest that this will cause large-scale declines. The loss of suitable habitat due to changes in forestry management, especially the removal of ground vegetation, could lead to a reduction in nesting sites and food sources.

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.  

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

Provide clean water and nest boxes for redstarts during the summer months.

Petition the UK government to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint to help reduce the effects of climate change on this species.  

Fascinating Fact

‘start’ is an old colloquial term for a tail, meaning the redstart gets its name from its bright orange tail.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Downloaded from Accessed: 19/09/2023.

Briggs, K. B., & Deeming, D. C. (2021). Localized habitat affects size and materials used in the construction of Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus nests. Bird Study, 68(1), 9–20.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Redstart | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 19/09/2023.

Gersten, A., & Hahn, S. (2016). Timing of migration in Common Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) in relation to the vegetation phenology at residence sites. Journal of Ornithology, 157(4), 1029–1036.

Martinez, N., Jenni, L., Wyss, E., & Zbinden, N. (2009). Habitat structure versus food abundance: the importance of sparse vegetation for the common redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Journal of Ornithology. 151: 297-307.

RSPB (2023) Redstart Bird Facts: Phoenicurus Phoenicurus, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 19/09/2023.

Willemoes, M., & Tøttrup, A. P. (2013). Migration of the Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus): a eurasian songbird wintering in highly seasonal Conditions in the west African Sahel. The Auk. 130(2): 258-264.

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