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Black Redstart

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An occasional winter visitor to Dorset


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Black Redstart: starting off back home

Post date: Monday, 3 March, 2014 - 00:00

As the spring equinox approaches we begin to anticipate the return to our shores of birds that left us the previous autumn to spend the winter in a warmer climate. By April that stream of migrant birds coming in off the sea each day is in full flow as they return for the breeding season. What we often forget is that there is an exodus from here going on at the same time as birds that came here for the winter return to their summer quarters. 

One such species that does just that is the black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) which will heads south east to central Europe, the opposite direction to many other species! The black redstart is very common in central and southern Europe where it is about as common as our robin. Originally a cliff dweller from the Alpine region they are now widespread around human habitation and even occur in large steel works and car production plants in Germany. In Dorset we usually get a half a dozen each winter, frequently at Durlston near Swanage and Nothe Fort in Weymouth but they have also been seen around the Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester and around B&Q in Poole.

I have to ask why they leave the beautiful county of Dorset to go a steel works in Germany for the summer? Not my preference I have to say!


Black Redstart in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

Post date: Wednesday, 13 February, 2019 - 18:20

The black redstart is primarily a species of mainland Europe where it is common around towns and villages; curiously it seems quite at home in industrial situations and can be found around large factories and warehouses. In Britain there are apparently a few nesting pairs in south east England but they certainly do not breed in Dorset, well not yet anyway, they are a winter visitor. Whether our wintering birds are from central Europe or from elsewhere in Britain is not clear but the probability is that they are from more northerly locations. The numbers wintering in Dorset vary from year to year but the winter of 2018/9 seems to have been a good one with birds being reported from a number of places and not just solitary birds, sometimes two or three in one place which I think is a little unusual. In January 2019 there were seventy reports alone; that is not seventy birds but reported sightings. 

The weekly reports show that black redstart begin to arrive in week 42 in mid-October and depending on weather conditions further afield the numbers seem to build during the winter and then inevitably decline in early spring and the are all gone by week 16 at the end of April.

Whilst some of our visiting birds frequent urban areas, there was one near Poole Quay for quite some time in January 2019 as well as reports from central Bournemouth, there is a tendency for them to inhabit rocky coastal habitat and so Portland is a popular spot as well as the cliffs along the Purbeck Coast with the caves at Tilly Whim, Durlston often hosting one. There are few reports from inland locations, they certainly prefer to be by the sea.

For list builders who want to see black redstart in Dorset the best bet is to monitor the news channels and head for where one is being seen regularly. They tend to stay in a favourable spot for a good while rather than move quickly on.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Black Redstart
Scientific Name Phoenicurus ochruros
Status Scarce
Interest Level
Species Family Chats
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Preferred Environment
  • Rocky cliffs and shores
Look for A dark robin-sized bird with orange fashes in the tail when it flies
Additional Identification Notes
  • The black redstart is very common in urban settings in central Europe
  • Small numbers overwinter here in Dorset, usually on rocky cliffs but sometimes on tall buildings
  • Its dark grey colouring with orange in the tail makes it almost unmistakable  
Similar Species