Bird Identification – The Redstart

When this exquisite little warbler flashes his brilliant salmon flame and black feathers among the trees, darting hither and thither, fluttering, spinning about in the air after insects caught chiefly on the wing, you will surely agree that he is the most beautiful as well as the most lively bird in the woods. The colour scheme of his clothes suggests the Baltimore oriole’s, only the flaming feathers on the sides of his body, wings, and tail are a pinker shade of flame, and the black ones which cover his back, throat, and upper breast, are more glossy, with bluish reflections. Underneath he is white, tinged with salmon. But you could not possibly mistake this lovely little sprite for the oriole, he is so much smaller—about an inch shorter than the sparrow. His cousin, the Blackburnian warbler, a much rarer bird, with a colour scheme of black, white, and beautiful rich orange, not salmon flame, can be named instantly by the large amount of white in his tail feathers. There are so few brilliantly coloured birds that find their way to us from the tropics, that it should not take any boy or girl longer to learn them than it does to learn the first multiplication table. In Cuba the redstart is known as “El Candelita”—the little candle flame that flashes in the deep, dark, tropical forest.

Who would believe that this small firebrand, half glowing, half charred, whirling about through the trees, as if blown by the wind, is a cousin of the sombre oven-bird that walks so daintily and leisurely over the ground? The redstart keeps perpetually in motion that he may seize gnats and other gauzy winged mouthfuls in mid-air—not as the flycatchers do, by waiting on a fence rail or limb of a tree for a dinner to fly past, then dashing out and seizing it, but by flitting about constantly in search of insect prey. The bristles at the base of his bill prevent many an insect from getting past it. He rests on the trees only long enough to snatch a morsel, then away he goes again. No wonder the Spaniards call all the gaily coloured, tropical wood warblers “Mariposas”—butterflies.