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Black Redstart - BirdForum Opus

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Adult male P. o. gibraltariensis
Photo © by rayh
East Yorkshire, England, October 2005
Phoenicurus ochruros


Photo © by Kingshot975
Dordognem France, 9 Oct 2013

14–15 cm (5½-6 in)

  • Grey-black upperparts
  • Sooty-black breast and face
  • White fringes to secondaries making a whitish wing patch
  • Rusty-red rump and tail

Slightly duller in winter but still distinct from females.
Female duller, brown-grey with rust-red rump and tail.
Immature males mostly look like the female, but a small percentage (around 10%; termed "paradoxus" birds) develop plumage like adult winter males in their first winter.


Photo © by bievrejj
Moirans, Isere, France, 11 July 2021

See Taxonomy1

Similar Species

Common Redstart:


Breeds in Iberia and France east to the Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine, Balkans and Greece, much of Turkey and the Caucasus. Also breeds in scattered outposts around edges of main range in south-east England (more rarely in central and northern England), Denmark and southern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, in northwest Africa and in scattered parts of the Middle East. In the Mediterranean breeds on Sicily and small numbers have bred on Corsica since the 1980s.

Resident in the south and some birds resident in Britain and Central Europe, but further north and east migratory, wintering chiefly around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, but also small numbers northwest to Ireland.

Vagrants recorded north to Iceland and the Faroes and also on Madeira and the Azores.


Adult male P. o. phoenicuroides
Photo © by ariban
Jawaharnagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 26 September 2014


Photo © by Tav94
Rame Barton Farm, Cornwall, England, October 2007

Several separable subspecies occur, differing mainly in extent of black/grey in plumage of the adult males. They fall into two main groups, the grey-bellied western races with orange-red restricted to the tail and vent, and the red-bellied birds from the east with extensive strong orange-red up to a sharp demarcation at the lower breast. The red-bellied subspecies also have less white fringing on the secondaries.

Females, and immature males except for "paradoxus" individuals, are not currently known to be distinguishable to subspecies[1][2][3].

Research is continuing as to whether the two groups may represent separate species, with conflicting results to date.

Underneath view in flight
Photo © by jbpixels
Bavaria, Germany, October 2023
  • Grey-bellied
  • P. o. aterrimus: in Iberia and Morocco, blacker above and below with more contrasting grey crown; not considered distinct from P. o. gibraltariensis by some authorities.
  • P. o. gibraltariensis: the race found breeding over most of Europe, including southern Britain, except for Iberia (where it does also occur in winter, including at its type location of Gibraltar).
  • P. o. ochruros, the nominate race from eastern Turkey and the Caucasus is intermediate between the two groups though closer to P. o. gibraltariensis, with some limited diffuse orange-red forward to the lower belly.
  • Red-bellied
  • P. o. semirufus from the Middle East has little or no white wing patch and rust-red lower breast and belly.
  • P. o. phoenicuroides from Central Asia, wintering in the Middle East to India is similar but paler above and often with white forehead.
  • P. o. rufiventris breeding from Turkmenistan to China resembles other eastern races but is larger and blacker above.
  • P. o. xerophilus from western China (Astin Tagh Mountains to western Gansu and Qinghai)

P. o. semirufus has occurred as a vagrant west to France and P. o. phoenicuroides has been recorded in Sweden, Britain, the Netherlands and Guernsey. Caution needs to be exercised with identification of extralimital red-bellied birds, as occasional western grey bellied birds can show some diffuse (though not well-marked) red on the belly; also, the occasional rare hybrids between western Black and Common Redstarts can be strikingly similar to red-bellied Black Redstarts[3][4].


Photo © by julienl
Brittany, France, 6 August 2016

Found in areas that are mountainous, hilly, rough, craggy, and stoney geographically. They will choose settled regions but choose places there that offer habitats similar to the rocky locales. Examples in these areas could be large buildings, manufacturing sites, and abandoned areas. Elevation varies from 1500 meters/5000 feet to as high as 5000 meters/16000 feet above sea level, depending on the particular location and country.



The diet consists of invertebrates and insects such as spiders, worms, grasshoppers, earwigs, bugs, cockroaches, supplemented with berries and seeds.


This species builds a concave-shaped nest of plant material such as grasses and mosses as well as feathers, hair, and other similar material. This nest is found in areas reminiscent of the remote appearing locations similar to their choice of habitat. Examples could include niches in rocks or buildings and places in earthen hillsides or stone groupings.

In this nest are placed up to approximately five light colored eggs usually sat upon for a couple of weeks before hatching, with the young staying in the nest for 2-3 more weeks before leaving.


It is resident in most parts of the range, but the northern populations winter in the southern parts of the range. Their status as a resident full-time, some of the time, or full-time migratory depends on the range or which part of a particular range.


Rock Sparrow can be heard in the background
Recording © by James Lidster
Oukaïmeden, Al Haouz, Marrakech-Safi, 4 February 2017


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and D Christie, eds. 2005. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334726
  3. Birding Frontiers: Red-bellied Black Redstarts
  4. Birding Frontiers: Eastern Black Redstart
  5. Collar, N. (2020). Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.blared1.01
  6. oiseaux-birds.com

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