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Tag Archive | "American Redstart"

American Redstart

By Ranger Steve Mueller

American Redstart. Photo by Ranger Steve Mueller.

Flamboyant. From tree branches this beauty displays glistening black with flaming red orange under its wings. The American Redstart is a third the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. An eye glint announces pride as its bill opens with song bursts. Its black back and folded wings conceal orange red that is seen from a front view. A splash of red glows like hot coals midway on black wings. The base of the tail radiates the same warm color. 

When I explore forests, red pigmented feathers capture my eye among its black plumage. Even the bill, legs, and feet are black. The only variance from black and red is its white belly. Females look similar to the males but the red is replaced with yellow. 

The redstarts fill a nature niche primarily in large contiguous forests where it pursues flying insects instead of hunting in small woodlots. It behaves like flycatchers by darting from branches to capture aerial insects. In the forest, with high activity it hovers among vegetative growth seeking spiders and insects in trees and shrubs.

Second growth forests of maple and aspens create suitable habitat and allow for redstart abundance provided the trees stands remain extensive. The need for large contiguous forests prevent it from nesting in urban areas. We most frequently enjoy them during migration when they stop to feed among town’s dispersed trees. 

In the late 1800s it was abundant throughout southern Michigan but was displaced when forests were harvested and replaced with agricultural farms. Now nesting is reduced in southern Michigan but it is one of the most abundant warblers found in northern Michigan. 

Optimum viewing in our areas is along extensive forested floodplains or in forests bordering Lake Michigan. Farther north it occupies both moist and dry maturing deciduous forests with woody understory growth. The redstart utilizes a greater habitat variety than more specialize warbler species. We get to enjoy its occurrence more frequently than many other warblers because it flits about trees in state parks and campgrounds.

It comes into view when darting after flying insects. Watch for its behavior of tail spreading that exposes the flaming color at its base. Like the warm season, this bird spends limited time with us. Encounters are mostly during spring and fall migration. During its spring travel, explore woody understory vegetation among branches before new leaves fill the habitat and conceal the bird. 

After settling in extensive woods, nests are constructed from 5 to 30 feet high in trees and sometimes higher. I have yet to discover one. It amazes me how difficult it is to locate nests but nesting success would be low if they could be easily found. Nests are built in tree branch forks toward the outer canopy.

Active northward travel in our area is primarily during May. By the end of the month breeding and egg laying begins. The first half of June is occupied with incubation so they are not as commonly viewed. One egg is laid daily until they have a clutch of 4 eggs. Then incubation commences. If nesting is successful, young are fed insects and spiders rich with protein. Growth is rapid and young fledge the nest before the end of June. When a nest is lost to predators or weather, a second brood results with young leaving the nest in July. 

Brown-headed Cowbirds patiently watch adults to locate nests and lay their larger egg in the nest near a forest edge. The redstart will feed the cowbird young that hatches rapidly and is large enough to get most of the food. Redstart nestlings frequently do not survive in parasitized nests. Greatest chances for nest success are in the interior forest because cowbirds typically avoid deep woods. Cowbirds are an open habitat species.

Fall departure for adults and young begins in August with the largest numbers moving to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America in September. Active insects abound in warm winter climates where redstarts reside while most of us nestle down for the cold months in our homes. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Warblers Come and Go

By Ranger Steve Mueller

American Redstart

American Redstart

Most warblers pass through our yards unnoticed during April and May, and again in August and September. Some stay to raise a family. As a group, they are the most colorful of the birds. They work in shrubs and trees feeding on insects. Insects are essential for them to increase weight rapidly to survive their long migration.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler is setting up summer residence in the yard among shrubs near the pond (Picture 1). It is one of the most colorful with a bright yellow cap and wonderful contrasting patterns of white and black throughout the body. Scattered yellow-green is present on the wings and rump. Varying amounts of rich chestnut orange-red patches line it sides. Adult males have extensive chestnut feathers on the sides and younger birds have shorter bands of color.

Chestnut sided Warbler

Chestnut sided Warbler

When looking for warblers, most people locate them by listening for songs and search the branches for their small presence. The warbler described above is only 4 inches long and weighs less than one half ounce. To identify birds remember GISSS. First acquire a general impression (GI). Is it sparrow, robin, or crow size and does it stand tall and upright or more horizontal. Habitat will help with general impression. Expect some birds high in forest trees, others near the ground in shrubs, or some in wetlands. Most people know to think Great Blue Heron along stream or water, robins in lawns, and Red-winged Blackbirds in marshes. Each warbler has a preferred habitat.

After acquiring a general impression, focus on size, color, and shape to help identify it. Behavior will help. A Black-and-white Warbler will climb on tree trunks like a nuthatch; Chestnut-sided Warblers will be among the shrubbery as will American Redstart (Picture 2). Some warblers just pass through so expect them only in spring and fall. Others will stay for the summer. Very few stay during the winter but the Yellow-rumped Warbler is sometimes found in the cold months. The SSS in GISSS refers to the size, shape, and seasonality. Add another S if you use sound like many birders to identify a warbler. I am not good at separating species by sound. I consider myself at best 80 percent proficient so I do not document presence based on song.

Pine Warblers are considered to have a stable population of 13,000,000. This sounds large but when compared to 200,000,000 European Starlings in the US it is not. Even starlings are not a numerous as humans in the US where we number about 350,000,000. Everyone’s yard can be critical habitat in a shrinking natural world. Encourage family and others to return portions of yards to native habitat to help warblers survive.

Compare the difference between the two warblers pictured. The redstart has an all black head with white only on the belly and not mixed among the body feathers. There is bright orange on the sides instead of chestnut and it has orange in the wings and tail. Nature niches are more interesting when we get to know our wild neighbors. Warblers will come when yard habitats include native wild plants for insects and birds. Horticultural and non-native plants usually do not support insect populations needed by warblers.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.


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Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union


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