Bird Watch: The black redstart
An unexpected visitor brightened up Ruth’s dull Wednesday
THIS week we wave goodbye to Bird Watch, just as the first summer migrants take their places in our skies, as for the next few months we will be shining a weekly spotlight on some of the butterflies and moths that visit our gardens between spring and autumn.
It seemed appropriate to go out on a high, and I am thrilled to be able to say that on the morning I was writing this piece, our front garden was visited by a black redstart.
These are uncommon and absolutely stunning birds, roughly the size of a robin. They get their unusual name from the plumage of the male birds, which have a grey-black body, white wing flashes and vivid red tail. (They are not to be confused with the more common redstart, which has a white eyestripe, orangy rump and chest and more fiery tail and, amazingly, appeared in the garden a few days after the black redstart!) There are less than 100 breeding pairs of black redstarts in the UK, most of them in the south-east. They tend to colonise urban areas with a few other birds scattered along the south coast, close to where we are.
They are most usually seen during their spring migration and in fact didn’t breed in the UK until after the Second World War, when they took advantage of the shells of bombed buildings to build their nests and rear their broods.
Black redstarts have a fairly ‘flexitarian’ attitude towards their diet and will eat worms, insects, berries and seeds. They can raise up to three broods a year, but despite this their numbers remain in serious decline thanks to our determination to ‘gentrify’ rundown urban areas and demolish old buildings.