Birds and BirdingFeatured Creature

This is a great time to see migrating birds: especially Redstarts

It is spectacular on the island at this time of year!  The wax myrtles along the roads are covered with tiny, flitting warblers on their way south, and it’s well worth the time to just park your cart and get out the binoculars:  you never know what you are going to find.  Yesterday’s bird count yielded yellow warblers, returning pied billed grebes, migrating cliff swallows, and a brief glimpse of a Merlin.

I noticed a female redstart feeding through the window last week, and was surprised to see a flock of 5 or so of them out near six pipes.  I checked and double checked, because I only saw females and juveniles… no males!  (and I wanted to be sure I had the id correct!)  It turns out that males have also been seen all over the island.  The talk at coffee this week was of how many redstarts people have been seeing. This is a quick moving bird, and I wasn’t lucky enough to get a shot of them, so I asked our friends Carl and Cathy Miller (Technical advisors, bloggers of Pluff Mud Perspectives, and photograpers) if they had gotten any pics lately.  They sent me these, and you can clearly see the differences between males and females.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  • A young male American Redstart resembles a female in plumage until its second fall. Males in the gray and yellow yearling plumage will try to hold territories and attract mates, singing vigorously. Some succeed in breeding in this plumage, but most do not breed successfully until they are two years old.
  • The male American Redstart occasionally is polygynous, having two mates at the same time. Unlike many other polygynous species of birds that have two females nesting in the same territory, the redstart holds two separate territories up to 500 m (1,640 ft) apart. The male starts to attract a second female after the first has completed her clutch and is incubating the eggs.

They are on their way to winter in the tropics, foraging for small insects and fruits on their way.  Cathy saw a female fly off a nest in the mountains and took a photo of it:  nests are a tight cup, about 5-10 feet up, in the fork of a sapling. Grasses and twigs are tightly bound with spider silk and decorated with lichens.  They don’t nest here, but I loved the photo.

They flash wings and tails to show the yellow plumage, presumably to attract insects.  This week, they have been seen on every road on the island, foraging at the edges.


If you’d like to read more about this bird, there is an interesting article from the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center.  In the tropics it is known as “The Christmas Bird” because that’s when it arrives for the winter, OR as “the latrine bird,” for its tendency to hang around latrines and garbage dumps in search of flies. The article also has details of how males (who help with feeding young) manage to maintain two separate mates, nests, and territories.


All photos courtesy of Cathy and Carl Miller.

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