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Number of species: 71

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American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla

American Redstart has a partial preformative molt, and an absent to limited prealternate molt of body feathers that is usually difficult to detect. Although definitive cycle male American Redstarts have a distinctive plumage, there is a fair amount of overlap among other age/sex classes.  In fall, checking for skull pneumatization is the most reliable way to ensure correct ageing. There are several other criteria that provide clues to age and sex, and in most cases a conclusion can be reached by considering multiple features.

Quick tips

  • Look for black plumage - only DCB/DCU (AHY/ASY) males have extensive black; birds with light to moderate black flecking around the head are FCF/FCU (HY/SY) males, and those entirely lacking black are usually females, but may also be FCF/FCU (HY/SY) males.
  • Check the side of the breast - females of any age may have yellow patches, while yellow-orange patches are seen on both FCF/FCU (HY/SY) males and DCB/DCU (AHY/ASY) females; some FCF/FCU (HY/SY) males have salmon-orange patches almost as dark as those on DCB/DCU (AHY/ASY) males.
  • Compare the nape and back - on females the gray of the head and brown of the back blend together, while on FCF/FCU (HY/SY) males there tends to be a sharp contrast between the gray and brown.
  • Examine the third rectrix - on FCF/FCU (HY/SY) females r3 is brown with little to no yellow, on FCF/FCU (HY/SY) males and DCB/DCU (AHY/ASY) females it is usually brown with some to considerable yellow, and occasionally may be yellow across the entire width of the feather; note that rectrix shape varies little by age compared to other passerines.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2016). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: June - September)
Brownish above and grayish below, with yellowish wing bars
No images available yet
FCF - (HY: June - December; SY January - April)
Largely grayish brown above, uniform with the crown (F) or contrasting with a more gray crown (M); flanks with pale to moderate yellow (F) or yellow to orange (M) patches; primariy coverts slightly paler than greater coverts; rectrices brown with no to little yellow on r3 (F) or some to considerable yellow on r3 (M)
M
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F
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FCU - (SY: January - August)
Largely grayish brown above, uniform with the crown (F) or contrasting with a more gray crown (M); flanks with pale to moderate yellow (F) or yellow to orange (M) patches; primariy coverts paler than greater coverts; rectrices brown with no to little yellow on r3 (F) or some to considerable yellow on r3 (M)
No images available yet
DCB - (AHY: June - December; ASY January - April)
Largely grayish brown above, uniform with the crown (F) or largely black above (M); flanks with yellow (F) or salmon orange (M) patches; primary coverts similar to greater coverts in color and wear; rectrices brown with yellow patches on r3 to r6 (F) or blackish with large orange patches on r3 to r6
No images available yet
DCU - (ASY: January - August)
Largely grayish brown above, uniform with the crown (F) or largely black above (M); flanks with yellow (F) or salmon orange (M) patches; primary coverts similar to greater coverts in color and wear; rectrices brown with yellow patches on r3 to r6 (F) or blackish with large orange patches on r3 to r6
No images available yet

Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: June - August)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: June - September)
Similar to FCF; median and greater coverts and greater alula being replaced
No images available yet
FPA - (HY: October - December; SY January - April)
Similar to FCF; some head and body feathers being replaced, as well as up to three inner greater coverts
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: June - August)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly pale brownish and very worn
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: June - August)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (relatively dark, less worn) or intermediate
F
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DPA - (AHY: October - December; ASY January - April)
Similar to DCB; some head and body feathers being replaced
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U June - September Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY June - April In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FPA / UPA (FPA, DPA) AHY October - April Undergoing prealternate molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCU / UCU (FCU, DCU) AHY January - August In formative, basic, or alternate plumage (molt completed), but cycle and plumage are not reliably distinguishable