The Black Redstart is a common breeding bird in much of continental Europe and it often nests in towns and villages. It, like the more familiar Common Redstart, is a hole-nester. Common Redstarts nest in holes in trees whereas Black Redstarts often nest in holes in building and walls.
In the UK Black Redstarts are uncommon as breeding birds but are found nesting in London, even central London, and that’s the main reason it is featured here today, as it is a species that those locked down in our capital might well hear during this period.
It is said that Black Redstarts colonised London after WWII and started nesting in amongst the rubble of bomb sites created during the Blitz.
I’ve heard Black Redstart song in Cavendish Square (just north of Oxford Street), by the Royal Society (in Carlton House Terrace), in The Strand (outside the Royal Courts of Justice) and singing from the roof of King’s Cross Station.
I remember the King’s Cross bird well because I had travelled down to London late in the evening and checked in to the Great Northern Hotel ahead of a day of radio interviews starting with 5Live morning drivetime show and the Today programme. I only had a few hours sleep and woke at 330am through a combination of nerves and the sound of a singing Black Redstart. I listened to the bird sing for well over an hour while gathering my thoughts for the day ahead.
This is what they sound like:
And here is a UK recording from London from the Olympic Park in Stratford;
It’s a simple jangling song, but if you hear it in London then you are having quite a treat.
And I’ve chosen it for this blog post because I am thinking of all those locked down in big conurbations, London in particular, with less access to green space than those of us lucky enough to have gardens and access to the countryside. The Black Redstart is a bird you might hear in any year, but the quieter streets might make it much easier this year.
But while we are discussing the urban Black Redstart we should touch on the Common Redstart, most definitely a bird of woodland, but with a quite similar song. The Common Redstart has a slightly more melodic tuneful song, often starting with a musical note and also often has what seems like ‘an extra bit at the end’ compared with its relative the Black Redstart.
But, quite honestly, if you hear a song that sounds like some sort of redstart in the UK you’ll usually be right to look around you at the habitat and choose on the basis of how many houses and trees you can see; more buildings than trees – Black; more trees than buildings – Common.