American Redstart – A Flash of Fall Color

This morning under a fresh, pale blue and white sky, a small bird flew ahead of me, from one tree to another, and its sunny color caught the light. When I found it again in the foliage, it turned out to be a bright orange and black male American Redstart, very pretty, fluttering among the leaves in its butterfly-like way.

This is the first migrating warbler I’ve seen here this fall, though many warblers and other migrants are now being reported by other, more vigilant birders in this area. The migration season is fully underway. For me, it’s a nice start – a small, animated, colorful bird, with a coal-black head, throat and back, white belly, and bright orange patches in the wings, sides and tail. It often fans the tail and spreads its wings, and flutters in a quick, airy way, searching leaves for insects and sometimes catching insects in flight.

Some American Redstarts may spend the summer here for nesting, but in our own neighborhood I usually see them only in spring and fall, when they’re moving. During these seasons, they’re one of our more common warblers – but their populations have declined in much of their range, especially in areas where suburban development has fragmented the second-growth woodlands they need for habitat.

This morning also, a Pileated Woodpecker called its cuk-cuk-cukcuk from the woods; a Red-shouldered Hawk cried kee-yer as it soared; an Eastern Wood-pewee repeated its fall puh-WEE; a Northern Flicker called a bright kleer! A Hairy Woodpecker rattled, kingfisher-like and silvery. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird zipped past me and stopped to perch on a branch of a tulip poplar, its green back glittering. One Summer Tanager called pik-a-tuk from a small group of water oaks and persimmon trees.

A Pine Warbler sang near the edge of the woods. A White-eyed Vireo sang in the field, and a Gray Catbird mewed. Chipping Sparrows and American Robins foraged in grassy yards, with Eastern Bluebirds that flashed down from low branches.

And all the usual suspects – lots of Blue Jays, Crows, Mourning Doves, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker – and the songs and calls of Carolina Wrens, the most varied and vibrant music at this time of year.

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