1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Redstart

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REDSTART, a bird well known in Great Britain, in many parts of which it is called firetail—a name of almost the same meaning, since "start" is from the Anglo-Saxon steort, a tail. This beautiful bird, Ruticilla phoenicurus, returns to England about the middle or towards the end of April, and at once takes up its abode in gardens, orchards and about old buildings, when its curious habit of flirting at nearly every change of position its brightly-coloured tail, together with the pure white forehead, the black throat, and the bright bay breast of the cock, renders him conspicuous, even if attention be not drawn by his lively though intermittent song. The hen is much more plainly attired; but the characteristic colouring and action of the tail pertain to her equally as to her mate. The nest is almost always placed in a hole of a tree or building, and contains from five to seven eggs of a delicate greenish blue, occasionally sprinkled with faint red spots. The young on assuming their feathers present a great resemblance to those of the redbreast (q.v.) at the same age; but the red tail, though of duller hue than in the adult, forms even at this early age an easy means of distinguishing them. The redstart breeds regularly in all the counties of England and Wales. It also reaches the extreme north of Scotland; but in Ireland it is very rare. It appears throughout the whole of Europe in summer, and is known to winter in the interior of Africa. Several very nearly allied forms occur in Asia; and one, R. aurorea in Japan.

A congeneric species which has received the name of black redstart, Ruticilla titys,[1] is very common throughout the greater part of the continent of Europe, where, from its partiality for gardens in towns and villages, it is often better known than the preceding species. It yearly occurs in certain parts of England, chiefly along or near the south coast, and curiously enough during the autumn and winter, since it is in central Europe only a summer visitor, and it has by no means the high northern range of R. phoenicurus. The males of the black redstart seem to be more than one year in acquiring their full plumage (a rare thing in Passerine birds), and since they have been known to breed in the intermediate stage this fact has led to such birds being accounted a distinct species under the name of R. cairii, thereby perplexing ornithologists for a long while, though now almost all authorities agree that these birds are, in some sense, immature.

More than a dozen species of the genus Ruticilla have been described, and the greater number of them seem to belong to the Himalayan sub-region or its confines. One very pretty and interesting form is the R. moussieri of Barbary, which allies the redstart to the stone-chats (see Wheatear), and of late some authors have included it in that genus. In an opposite direction the bluethroats, apparently nearer to the redstarts than to any other type, are placed in the genus Cyanecula, containing two or three distinguishable forms: (1) C. suecica, with a bright bay spot in the middle of its clear blue throat, breeding in Scandinavia, northern Russia and Siberia, and wintering in Abyssinia and India, though rarely appearing in the intermediate countries, to the wonder of all who have studied the migration of birds; (2) C. leucocyanea, with a white instead of a red gular spot, a more Western form, ranging from Barbary to Germany and Holland; (3) C. wolfi, with its throat wholly blue—a form of comparatively recent occurrence. The first of these is a not infrequent, though very irregular, visitant to England, while the second has appeared there but seldom, and the third never, so far as is known. The redstarts with their allies mentioned in this article belong to the subfamily Turdinae of the thrushes (q.v.).

In America the name redstart has been bestowed upon a bird which has some curious outward resemblance, both in looks and manners, to that of the Old Country, though the two are in the opinion of some systematists nearly as widely separated from each other as truly Passerine birds well can be. The American redstart is Setophaga ruticilla, belonging to the purely New-World family Mniotiltidae, and to a genus which contains about a dozen species, ranging from Canada (in summer) to Bolivia. (A. N.)

  1. The orthography of the specific term would seem to be titis (Ann. Nat. History, ser. 4, x. p. 227), a word possibly cognate with the first syllable of titlark and titmouse.