McGILL BIRD OBSERVATORY

PHOTO LIBRARY

American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)

 Seasonal status at MBO:

JAN
       
FEB
       
MAR
       
APR
       
MAY
       
JUN
       
JUL
       
AUG
       
SEP
       
OCT
       
NOV
       
DEC
       
  common
  fairly common
  uncommon
  rare
  occasional
  no records
 
QUICK TIPS:
1) Look for black plumage - only AHY/ASY males have extensive black, birds with light to moderate black flecking around the head are HY/SY males, and those entirely lacking black are usually females, but may also be HY/SY males

2) Look at the side of the breast - females of any age may have yellow patches, while yellow-orange patches are seen on both HY/SY males and AHY/ASY females, and some HY/SY males may have salmon-orange patches almost as dark as those on AHY/ASY males

3) Examine the primary coverts - on HY/SY birds they are a paler brown than the adjacent greater coverts and usually the outer coverts are narrow and tapered, while on AHY/ASY birds the primary coverts are uniform in colour with the greater coverts and the outer coverts are relatively broad and rounded

4) Examine the rectrices - on HY/SY females they are brown with little to no yellow on r3 (third rectrix from the centre of the tail), on HY/SY males they are brown with some to considerable yellow on r3, and on AHY/ASY females they are dark brown with some to considerable yellow on r3; note that rectrix shape varies little by age compared to other passerines

5) Look at the primaries - on HY/SY females there is generally no yellow extending beyond the primary coverts, while on HY/SY males and AHY/ASY females there is yellow extending a few to several mm beyond the primary coverts (typically somewhat longer on HY/SY males but more study is needed)

Note that aside from AHY/ASY males, American Redstarts can be challenging to age and sex, and it is recommended to use several features to come to a conclusion

Ageing and sexing guidelines:

January - July:

ASY - M
Black and orange plumage over most of the body

ASY - F
Lacking any black plumage; wing uniformly adult
   

 

SY - M
Little to moderate black flecking on the face and head; yellow-orange to salmon-orange patches on the breast
SY - F
Lacking any black plumage; breast side patches yellow; primary coverts faded and somewhat abraded

-

June - December:

AHY - M
Black and orange plumage over most of the body
AHY - F
Lacking any black plumage; wing uniformly adult
HY - M
Sometimes with black flecking on the face and head; yellow-orange to salmon-orange patches on the breast; primary coverts faded compared to greater coverts
HY - F
Lacking any black plumage; breast side patches yellow; primary coverts faded compared to greater coverts
 

Ageing and sexing details:

after-second-year male

Any American Redstart that is mostly black in spring can be immediately recognized as an after-second-year male.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005 
 


The wing of after-second-year males shows uniform primary coverts and greater coverts.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005


The outer rectrices (r3-r6) all have large orange patches.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005

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after-second-year female

 



 




 



 

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second-year male

Second-year males can be easily recognized by any black flecking on the head.  Most commonly it begins in the lores as on the bird below, but black feathers may also appear on the throat, nape, and crown.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005


On second-year redstarts, the primary coverts are somewhat paler than the greater coverts, and the outer primary coverts tend to be somewhat narrow, pointed, and abraded.  Note that the yellow patches on the primaries project several mm beyond the primary coverts.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005
 


The tail of second-year males is quite similar to that of after-second-year females.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005

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second-year female

The pales of the redstart plumages, with no black or orange anywhere.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005
 


The contrast between the paler brown primary coverts and dusky brown greater coverts is clearly visible in the photo below, as is the complete absence of yellow marks on the primaries.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005
 


Note the very limited extent of yellow on r3 (the fourth rectrix from the outside of the tail) that is typical of second-year females.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, May 2005

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after-hatch-year male

Any American Redstart that is mostly black in fall can be immediately recognized as an after-hatch-year male.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2005
 


The wing of after-second-year males shows uniform primary coverts and greater coverts, and extensive orange marks on the primaries.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, September 2005
 


The outer rectrices (r3-r6) all have large orange patches, and there is often also some orange on the outer side of r2.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2005

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after-hatch-year female

After-hatch-year females and hatch-year males may have an overall similar appearance.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, September 2006
 


Note that the primary coverts are similar in colour and wear to the greater coverts on after-hatch-year females, and that the outer primary coverts are broad and rounded at the tip.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, September 2006
 


The yellow patches on after-hatch-year females overlap considerably in size with those of hatch-year males and are not reliable for ageing or sexing.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2005


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, September 2006

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hatch-year male

Hatch-year males may show some black flecking on the face or elsewhere on the head; in the absence of this, wing characteristics are critical to correct identification.  Though strongly orange breast side patches as in the first photo below are suggestive of males, occasionally after-hatch-year females can be almost as strongly marked.  Note that the bird in the third (side view) and fourth (top view) photos below shows an unusual amount of reddish marking on the back for a hatch-year male.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2006


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2005


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2006


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2006
 


The contrast between pale brown primary coverts and darker greater coverts can be very useful in identifying hatch-year males and is particularly well illustrated in the first photo below.  The second photo shows that in some light this contrast does not show up as well, but note that the relatively narrow and pointed shape of the outer primary coverts can still be checked, and the yellow on the primaries extending beyond the primary coverts identifies it as a male rather than female.  The second bird is also unusually pale gray on the wing.  The yellow is particularly extensive in the third example below, highlighting the variability in this species.


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2006


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007
 


The tail of hatch-year males is usually fairly dark, with moderately extensive yellow on r3; the third photo below is from the abnormally pigmented individual shown in the body photos above, and is almost like an after-hatch-year male tail in colour.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007

 
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007


Photo by Seabrooke Leckie, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2006

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hatch-year female

Hatch-year females are by far the palest redstarts, and may be tentatively identified just by their overall drab appearance, but wing and tail characteristics should be consulted for confirmation.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007
 


Note the absence of yellow on the primaries; and the minimal contrast between the primary coverts and greater coverts; sometimes there is no yellow at all visible on the wing, as in the second photo below.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2007
 


Note that on r3 there is little yellow, and it is limited to the outer web of the feather.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory, August 2005

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2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.