Red-bellied Black Redstarts

They are out there

Great day at Spurn on Saturday 19th March began at dawn with a Black Redstart flying past (underneath!) our caravan- it then perched up near the rubbish area and sang briefly. Looking female -like I assumed it was a first summer male. Male Black Redstarts have 2 plumage types in their first year plumage:

cairei = (about 90% of 1st yr males in dull female-like plumage)

paradoxus = (c10% of 1st yr males in brighter male-like plumage)

The day just got better and better. A pair of Velvet Scoter flew past the ‘van mid morning  and 9 Whooper Swans, 6 Pink-feet and a bunch of Brent Geese as well as Buzzard and Merlin all buzzed the airspace viewable from the caravan as the day headed towards afternoon. Last orders produced a 2nd w Yellow-legged Gull on the Humber shore- a rare bird here in March. The next morning peaked with the 1st summer male White-spotted Bluethroat. Paul Collins then radioed out a new (smart-looking) male Black Redstart at the Point (by cafe). For me, this bird was another piece in an old jigsaw I have been trying to piece together for years. Why? because it had red on the belly. Here it is:

Above 3 photos. A male Black Redstart with ‘red’ belly feathering. Can you see the contrast in the  2 types of coverts feathers? Shorter buff-tipped outer and longer white-tipped inner coverts ages as first winter (think that ages it?!). The black ‘face’ marks also look as you find them on 1st w paradoxus males). The central belly looked white when front-on but in the lower belly there is clearly orangey feathering.

re aging:  Magnus Hellström, who knows a lot more about aging passerines then I do wrote:

“Actually, I believe this is an adult (3CY+) male. The brown edges to the outer GC is a sign of relative freshness (not shown by all
individuals). There is no moult contrast visible in the bird, and the
age is further supported by the cold grey and fresh pc and primary
tips. Note also the cold dark grey (nearly blackish) centra of the GC,
which proves them as post-juv (or older). 2CY bird generally only
moults a few inner GC, and if this would be a 2CY the post-juv moult
would have included all GC which is very rare in this species (at
least in Scandinavia). Most individuals moults only 2-3 GC.

Cheers  Magnus”

The red belly? It’s subtle, but it’s there. Have a look in your Collins Field Guide. Red-bellied = eastern bird. However a bird I saw wintering on Lincoln Cathedral in Feb. 2010 convinced me that some western Black Redstarts can have red on the belly. Here it is:

1st winter male Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis of the ‘paradoxus-type’  Lincoln Cathedral 12 February 2010. This bird had obviously brownish old juvenile wings and even more extensive reddish belly feathering than the Spurn bird. One eminent commentator was sure it was ssp. ochruros. I have seen ochruros in Turkey and phoenicuroides/semirufus further east. They don’t have white in the wing like this (or the Spurn bird.)

Some more (amazing) images of red-bellied (western) Black Redstarts in Florence Italy by Daniele Occhiato:

Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros is a widespead species, which can be roughly divided into 2 groupings according to BWP: (1) gibraltariensis group with gibraltariensis and aterrimus, occurring Europe and North Africa east to Crimea and (probably) western Turkey; (aterrimus being limited to central and southern Iberia) and (2) phoenicuroides group with phoenicuroides, rufiventris, semirufus and xerophilus, in central Asia, west to Turkmeniya, north-east Iran, and Levant. The eastern phoenicuroides group differs chiefly from the western gibraltariensis group in having extensive red over the belly in adult males. However the nominate form P. o. ochruros inhabiting Turkey, Caucasus and Iran, combines characters of both main groups, including variable amounts of red feathering on the belly. Situated geographically between the western and eastern groups, as well as being highly variable, it is postulated that its plumage characters are the result of secondary intergradation.

On “The evolutionary history of Eurasian Redstart”: (thanks to Alex Lees)

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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7 Responses to Red-bellied Black Redstarts

  1. Ben Miller says:

    Hi Martin,

    Fascinating blog post, as always.

    What do you make of this adult male bird photographed in south Spain a few years back – a very extreme example Red-bellied Black Redstart, or a hybrid with Common Redstart?



    • Martin Garner says:

      Hi Ben

      Thanks for this. I agree with others and yourself (I think?) who believe your linked bird to be a hybrid (F1- I guess) Redstart X Black Red. The uppers are more Redstart- like and the way the underparts are marked look v similar to others considered hybrids. Martin


  2. Ben Miller says:

    Hi Martin,

    Many thanks for your reply. Yes, that was I who posted the images and suggested the bird was a hybird – great you think the same!

    Cheers, Ben

  3. Jan Jörgensen (JanJ) says:

    Just out of intrest.
    In Ben Miller’s birdforum link there’s a link from Eduardo (Motmot), showing a swedish bird caught at Ottenby on October 2005. Suggestions of eastern phoenicurioides or a hybrid was considered at the time.
    Remembered that I had these images of the same bird:



  4. Magnus Hellström says:

    The bird linked by Jan above was accepted/published as either ochruros/semirufus/phoenicuroides/rufiventris while awaiting the upcoming DNA analysis (and was expected to be returned as phoenicuroides). Unfortunately the blood got decomposed and useless. With or without DNA, I think there are good reasons to assume that this is a phoenicuroides.


  5. Martin Garner says:

    Thanks guys- I agree the Swedish bird looks exactly as I hope a vagrant phoenicuroides will look like when I see/ find one in Western Europe!

    cheers for the input


  6. Pingback: Eastern Black Redstart | Birding Frontiers

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