American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla

This bird travels from as far south as northern South America in winter, to as far north as northwestern and eastern Canada during breeding season. Rarely do they visit the western USA, except in the mountainous regions in the far north. These birds are far more common in eastern USA. When the breeding season is over, American Redstarts travel south, staying in southern Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America. Southern Baja California (Mexico) is another location we find them in winter.

When foraging, these birds appear as sparks or flickering flames in the canopy as they search for their insect prey. Constantly in motion, these birds are challenging subjects to photograph while feeding.

Breeding season finds these birds in second growth broadleaf forests in North America, where they usually stay in the mid to lower sections of the canopy. In winter they seek woody habitats often near agriculture. Shade-grown coffee plantations seem to be especially attractive to them.

To date, all my meetings with this species have been in south Texas. Laguna Atascosa NWR provided me with my first meeting with this species in spring 2020. That was a male bird. I met my first female bird in spring of 2021 on South Padre Island.

Today’s science recognises two subspecies of American Redstart. S. r. ruticilla breeds in the eastern USA, and S. r. tricolora breeds in across Canada and northwestern USA.

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