My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla

The American Redstart is a New World warbler. It is unrelated to the Old World redstarts. It derives its name from the male’s red tail, start being an old word for tail.

The American Redstart is smallish warbler. It measures 11 to 14 cm (4.3 to 5.5 in) in total length, has a wingspan of 16 to 23 cm (6.3 to 9.1 in) and weighs 6.7 to 12 cm (2.6 to 4.7 in). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 5.5 to 6.9 cm (2.2 to 2.7 in), the tail is 4.9 to 5.8 cm (1.9 to 2.3 in), the bill is 0.7 to 0.9 cm (0.28 to 0.35 in) and the tarsus is 1.5 to 1.9 cm (0.59 to 0.75 in). The breeding males are unmistakable, jet black above apart from large orange-red patches on their wings and tails. Their breast sides are also orange, with the rest of their underparts colored white. In their other plumage, American Redstarts display green in their upper parts, along with black central tails and grey heads. The orange patches of the breeding males are replaced by yellow in the plumage of the females and young birds.

They breed in North America, across southern Canada and the eastern USA. These birds are migratory, wintering in Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America (in Venezuela they are called “candelitas”). They are very rare vagrants to western Europe. During the breeding season, this warbler inhabits open-canopy, mostly deciduous forests, second-growth, and forest edge across much of the United States and southern Canada. This insectivorous bird often shares its foraging habitats with other warblers, and is found feeding in the mid to lower regions of a tree or shrub. A wide range of habitats are occupied during migration, including many shrubby areas. On their wintering grounds in Central and South America, this warbler may be found in nearly all woody habitats but tend to avoid non-forested agricultural areas.

The breeding habitats of the redstarts are open woodlands or scrub, often located near water. They nest in the lower part of a bush, laying 2-5 eggs in a neat cup-shaped nest. The clutch is incubated by the female for 10 to 13 days. The young fledge after 9 days in the nest, and may remain with one parent for up to 3 weeks after fledging. First-year males are able to reproduce during their first breeding season, but they retain the female-like plumage which may contribute to low reproductive success (less than 50% of first-year males) until year 2. In contrast, most first-year females successfully reproduce during their first breeding season. There is evidence for a skewed sex ratio that results in a surplus of unmated males.

The redstarts feed almost exclusive on insects which are usually caught by flycatching. American Redstarts also have been known to catch their insect prey by gleaning it from leaves. This is a very active species. The tail is often held partly fanned out. These birds have been observed flashing the orange and yellow of their tails, on and off, to startle and chase insects from the underbrush. Overall, this species is a very flexible, opportunistic feeder that can easily adapt to varying habitat, season, insect community, vegetation structure, and time of day. The diet consists largely of caterpillars, moths, flies, leafhoppers and planthoppers, small wasps, beetles, aphids, stoneflies and spiders. Few berries and seeds are consumed, but are most often from barberry, serviceberry, and magnolia.

On to my photos:

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Female American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male American Redstart

This is number 103 in my photo life list, only 247 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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19 responses

  1. Your bird shots (even the tiny very active guys) are improving noticeably. Is that long lens getting any easier to carry?

    June 11, 2013 at 2:49 am

    • Thanks for noticing! I am getting more used to carrying that beast, but some of the improvement that you see is because my camera allows me to fine tune the settings for brightness, contrast, sharpness, etc. With three user set-ups available, I have one dialed in for each lens now, which helps a lot. The rest of the improvements are because of the confidence I have in my new camera and lenses. I wait for good angles and lighting, because I know that my gear will perform properly when I press the shutter release. With the old Nikon, it was shoot anything I saw no matter what or where, as I never knew if the camera was going to work right, or suffer from one of its many glitches at just the wrong time.

      June 11, 2013 at 3:05 am

      • That sounds like quite an endorsement for Canon over Nikon.

        June 11, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      • Well, the Canon is a mid-range body, the Nikon was a low end body. It still should have functioned correctly, but never did. I didn’t figure that out until it was too late to return it, I thought that it was me.

        June 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

  2. Mona

    lovely birds, especially male one.

    June 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

    • Thank you Mona!

      June 11, 2013 at 9:13 am

  3. You couldn’t get much closer than you were in some of these.

    June 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

    • You’re right, there were several times that the female was too close for the lens to focus on her, and I had to move back to continue shooting.

      June 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm

  4. It looks more like a yellow start to me.

    June 11, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    • Thanks, that would fit the females well enough, orange redstart would better suit the males.

      June 12, 2013 at 1:41 am

  5. Adorable! PS, do you use a monopod when shooting with the long lens? I’m thinking of getting one even just for my smallish telefoto.

    June 12, 2013 at 8:02 am

    • Thanks. I have both a monopod and a tripod, but I never use either for the birds shots. I can’t move the camera quickly enough to keep up with the smaller birds. My long telephoto has optical stabilization built into it which helps a lot as far as getting sharp photos handheld when shooting birds. I use the tripod for low light scenery photos, and occasionally for flowers.

      June 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

      • Thx for the input! Yeah, I have a tripod, too, but I definitely can’t move it/adjust it fast enough for anything faster than a plant. 😉 Might look into a simple monopod and see if that helps stabilize even more than what the built-in system does.

        June 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

  6. Great photos! Just love the sharp contrast of colors in the first shots between the bird and sky. For some reason wordpress isn’t allowing me to “like” any posts today. But I always like your stuff! 🙂

    June 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    • Thanks Amy. I love to get a clear blue sky as a background whenever I can, which isn’t often enough.

      June 13, 2013 at 2:22 am

  7. Those first shots of the males are gorgeous – it’s to see them dart after insects and flash the colors on those wings & tails. Nice shots! I wouldn’t’ even try!

    June 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    • Thanks, but they’re not as hard to photograph as some other birds are.

      June 14, 2013 at 2:53 am

  8. Perhaps one day I’ll get to see one of these. Your first shots are fantastic!

    June 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    • Thank you. I see them all the time while trout fishing rivers, but I never have had may camera with me then.

      June 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm