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American Redstart
Setophaga ruticilla

The American Redstart is conspicuous both for its stunning appearance and its acrobatic fly-catching behavior. The male's orange and black plumage, and even the female's yellow and gray plumage, is among the most striking of any warbler. The American Redstart is built somewhat like a flycatcher, with a flat bill and bristles on the sides of the mouth to aid in catching flying insects. It is very active while foraging, frequently fanning its tail and flicking its wings to flush insect prey. The American Redstart breeds from southeastern Alaska to eastern Canada, south into some of the western states, and throughout much of the eastern United States. In winter it is found mostly in Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America. The American Redstart is present in Tennessee from mid-April to early October, and occupies bottomland hardwood forest in West Tennessee and moist upland deciduous forest in the Cumberland Mountains.

Description: The male and female are similarly patterned, but differently colored. The male has a solid black hood, back, wings, tail, and chest, with bright orange patches on the sides of the breast, in the wings, and in the tail. The female is gray where the male is black, and yellow where he is orange. First-year males (March-August) resemble the female, but have a darker tail, and may have irregular patches of black on the head, breast, and back.
Length: 5.25"
Wingspan: 7.75"
Weight: 0.29 oz

Voice: The song is more variable than most warblers, and consists of a series of 5 or 6 high notes, ending with an upward or downward note.

Similar Species:

  • Blackburnian Warblers have an orange face and throat, not black, and have no orange in the wings or tail.

Habitat: Moist mature, and second growth bottomland forest, and upland deciduous forest.

Diet: Insects, and some small fruits in late summer.

Nesting and reproduction: Peak egg laying in Tennessee is during the second half of May. American Redstarts raise only one brood in a season, but will renest if the first nest is lost.

Clutch Size: 2 to 5 eggs, with 3 to 4 most common.

Incubation: The female alone incubates the eggs for 11 to 12 days.

Fledging: Both parents feed the young, which fledge in 8 to 9 days.

Nest: The female builds the compact cup-nest of bark strips, grasses, and plant fibers, lined with finer materials, often decorated with lichens, and held together with spider webs. The nest is typically placed in the upright fork of a deciduous tree or shrub. It takes the female about 3 days to complete a nest. In Tennessee, nest heights range from 7 to 20 feet above the ground, with an average of 15 feet

Status in Tennessee: The American Redstart is a fairly common migrant across the state, a fairly common summer resident in East and West Tennessee, and rare in Middle Tennessee. Birds arrive in mid-April and depart by early October. Populations in the state are declining, but the reasons for this decline are not clear.

Dynamic map of American Redstart eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • American Redstarts are unusual among warblers in that the male does not acquire his breeding plumage until his second year. First-year males resemble the female in plumage, and while he may hold a territory and attract a mate, most are not successful at raising young until they are two years old.
  • The American Redstart resembles, but is unrelated to the European Redstart. The term "start" is derived from the Old English "stert, " meaning tail.
  • The oldest known Redstart in the wild was 10 years, one month old.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Meeman-Shelby State Park and Forest, Hatchie NWR, Frozen Head State Natural Area, North Cumberland WMA.

For more information:

Smithsonian National Zoological Park Featured Bird


Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sherry, T. W., and R. T. Holmes. 1997. American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). The Birds of North America, No. 277 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.