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Black Redstart

All about black redstarts

The black redstart is a small robin-sized bird that has adapted to live at the heart of industrial and urban centres. Its name comes from the plumage of the male, which is grey-black in colour with a red tail. The bird has a fine bill, rounded domed forehead and an upright posture with a slightly potbellied appearance.

A characteristic feature of redstarts is their vibrating tail, which has been likened to a ruler flicked on the edge of a table. Those with an acute sense of hearing will be able to catch the first indication of the presence of black redstarts, a scratchy song delivered from the top of a high building or structure.

They are not always easy to locate however, and can be particularly elusive in their chosen urban habitats.

Black Redstarts first bred in Britain in 1923 but very few pairs were involved until the outbreak of the Second World War when heavy bombing of London and other towns and cities created potential nesting sites on the empty shell of bomb damaged buildings. In the 1970s five pairs were recorded in Nottinghamshire.


How we are helping black redstarts

Our Conservation Team has been lobbying planners, developers and owners of existing buildings to adopt strategies that will benefit black redstarts. They have been installing open-fronted bird nesting boxes on the buildings of local companies, specifically designed to attract the black redstart, whose calls have recently been reported in the area bordering Nottingham’s canal.

Our Conservation Team have also been working with developers to create green and brown roofs, which provide a mix of vegetation and bare terrain - ideal for black redstarts. This habitat favours the black redstart because it imitates the mountainous scree slopes, barren hillsides and quarries that black redstart’s use in continental Europe.

Members of the Conservation Team are also trying to ensure that a commitment to providing brown and green roofs, particularly in urban areas, is included in Planning Policy documents and development plans throughout Nottinghamshire.

Photo gallery

Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Jacqui Jay Grafton) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Jacqui Jay Grafton) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Jacqui Jay Grafton) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Steve Plume) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Steve Plume) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Steve Plume) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Steve Plume) Black Redstart Notts WT (cpt Steve Plume) Black Redstart  NottsWT (cpt Sean Browne) Black Redstart  NottsWT (cpt Sean Browne) Black Redstart  NottsWT (cpt Sean Browne)

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Black Redstart Printable Factsheet


With fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the UK, the black redstart is one of the lesser known species on the amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

In fact with so few of them in Britain, the black redstart is actually a rarer British breeding bird than even the osprey or golden eagle, which by comparison, is thought to have around 400 breeding pairs in Britain.

It is not the destruction of wild habitat that has damaged the population of this small bird, but urban regeneration!

As vast areas of what some would consider ‘urban wastelands’ are transformed into new housing and retail parks, the bird has been left with fewer places to thrive.

Where to see

Your best chance of spotting one probably comes in spring or autumn when around 500 birds from continental Europe pass over many areas of the UK en route for wintering areas.

Since the 1950’s there have been occasional sightings of the black redstart in Nottingham. There are a few recommended places to look including the derelict areas located on the Lace Market’s Weekday Cross which provides a good foraging habitat for the black redstart. In the past they have been spotted around the Galleries of Justice and the old police station. On the opposite side of the road you will see a gap in the buildings, a result of a bombing raid during World War II. This is now used as a car park, but also provides an excellent environment for this elusive bird to forage.

Similarly Nottingham Trent University’s Newton and Arkwright buildings’ green roofs have had the occasional sighting.

Elsewhere sightings are few and far between but keep your eyes peeled!


Protecting Wildlife for the Future