The Redstart is a winter bird that often visits gardens or parks. It makes very clear calls: “Hi, hi, hi ”, or sometimes, “Kwa, kwa, kwa.” The plain female, or the male when the color of its plumage is not clearly visible, is easy to mistake for a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, but its beak is thin and it assumes a more upright posture than tree sparrows do. The Redstart has a characteristic tail flick, often done after bobbing its body. The male is considered to be the most beautiful among small familiar Japanese birds. However, when it perches on power lines with the sun to its back, it can often be difficult to make out its beautiful coloring.
Play birds singing
The Daurian Redstart arrives in Japan earlier than other winter birds, typically appearing in October. It also leaves Japan earlier, usually going before the cherry blossoms begin to flower. However, recently there have been reports of their songs being heard, young birds being seen and even some nests being discovered around September.
Considering Japan's latitudinal position in relation to neighboring Korea—the Redstart's breeding ground— it is not surprising that signs of breeding have also been found in Japan. Many winter birds are thought to breed in Far Eastern Russia, whereas the Redstart breeds further south in China and the Korean Peninsula. They do not spend winter in Northern China, but they can be seen on the Korean Peninsula. The Redstart may often be called a resident bird in South Korea because it can be seen all around. But in fact, some birds may be “Summer Visitor Redstarts”, which stay and breed in Korean in spring and summer and then move to Japan for the winter. On the other hand, others may be “Winter Visitor Redstarts”, which breed in China and move to Korea for the winter.
The common life cycle for small birds involves raising their chicks in pairs and, when their breeding season is over, going out to join a flock as a pair bond or family unit. Most small birds form a flock after every breeding season, but Redstarts do not. The reason is related to their eating habits. In autumn they usually feed on berries, but in winter, like Shrikes, they feed on insects that try to survive the winter.
Forming a flock is advantageous for many birds. If a seed-eating bird finds an abundant supply of food, it can easily share it and if a flock member detects danger, it can alert the other members to help them escape. However, for some birds that feed on insects or small animals, it is more advantageous to guard their winter territories to avoid competing for food.
Both the male and female call, “Hi, hi, hi” outside of the breeding season. This is thought to be a call note and a declaration of territory.
In autumn they make frequent energetic calls, but by winter, each individual has marked its territory and quiets down.
A white wing spot is a characteristic shared by both the male and female. The male and the more drab female also share a beautiful brown rump, outer tail and belly coloration. Living alone is another characteristic that sets it apart from the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
As the Redstart prefers open environments, it is very conspicuous. It usually perches on a prominent spot and, upon finding an overwintering insect or some other food on the ground, swoops down to eat it.
Canon sites where this bird is seen