Bird Watching (UK)

Black Redstarts

The future of the Black Redstart in the UK is a top concern. So, now, more than ever, is the time to go out and find one…


With so few breeding pairs of this beautiful bird in the UK, now really is the time to get out and see one

The Black Redstart is a beautiful bird but, unfortunat­ely, it is also a rare one in the UK, with only about 40 breeding pairs throughout the country. It is, however, more easily seen on spring and autumn passage, and also in winter. Whatever the time of year, though, this is definitely a bird worth seeking out. Originally found in rocky habitats across much of Europe, Black Redstarts readily adapted to using man-made buildings, be they small houses or massive cathedrals, and can now be found breeding in virtually any village, town and city across the southern and central European mainland. In Britain, the first record for them breeding was in 1923, but it was after World War II that their population began to expand, as bomb damaged buildings provided the perfect nesting habitat for this small bird. Black Redstarts nest in holes or recesses in buildings, replicatin­g their natural habitat of rock faces and cliffs, and near to these nest sites, they need feeding areas where they can forage for insects and other invertebra­tes. In Britain, several pairs nest in industrial sites and power stations, which not only have tall cliff-like structures, but also plenty of open space around them where they can feed themselves and provision their young. There are a handful of pairs that breed on some southern coastal cliff sites, but the majority of our breeding population are real urbanites. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham, Liverpool and Ipswich – among others – all have this red-tailed beauty breeding in their hearts. They certainly make a change from the Feral Pigeons! The male defends and advertises his territory with one of the odder songs of the bird world. It starts off, like many others, with a melodic tumble of notes, but then it stops briefly before being followed by a strange crackling sound. Some books describe it as being like crumpled paper, but to my ears at least, it sounds like the interferen­ce you used to get when tuning your old analog radio! It’s a very distinctiv­e song indeed!

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