American redstart
Setophaga ruticilla
ITIS Species Code:   178979         NatureServ Element Code:   ABPBX06010
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  15 Southern Piedmont:  16 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  14
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

20.2 %
31.6 %
8.5 %
8.0 %
6.3 %
2.8 %
12.2 %
1.3 %
2.1 %
6.1 %
6.1 %
0.2 %
0.1 %

52.7 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

2.5 %
3.9 %
1.1 %
1.0 %
0.8 %
0.3 %
1.5 %
0.2 %
0.3 %
0.1 %
0.8 %
< 0.1 %
87.4 %

6.6 %
In the mountains, usually found in second growth mixed (Griscom and Sprunt 1957) or deciduous forests and forest edges (Alsop 1991) with an understory of saplings or in gaps made by windfall, burn, or logging (Dunn and Garrett 1997). Frequents wooded streams, ponds, and swamps, especially in bottomland forests. Also in orchards, towns, and overgrown pastures (Dunn and Garrett 1997). In the coastal plain, often breeds in hardwood swamps (Fussell 1994).

Nest is 5 to 20 feet above ground in the crotch of a shrub or small tree (Potter et al. 1980), in a cluster of branches on a horizontal limb (Griscom and Sprunt 1957), and rarely on the ground (Ehrlich et al. 1988). In the coastal plain, nest is often placed in vines or tangles (Fussell 1994). Occasionally a nest of another species will be used (Ehrlich et al. 1988).


BREEDING: Various mature and second-growth wooded habitats. Deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous second-growth forests, alder swamps, old growth forests with regenerating trees (e.g., around tree-fall gaps), willow thickets, small groves; low, damp, second-growth deciduous and mixed floodplain forests and river swamps; most abundant in mature deciduous forest stands, but also may occur in young woods less than 15 years old; requires closed canopy and prefers dense midstory and understory and well-developed undergrowth; use of pole-stage stands apparently varies geographically (Cruickshank 1979, Crawford et al. 1981, Harrison 1984, DeGraaf 1985, Bushman and Therres 1988, Sherry and Holmes 1997). Nests usually are placed in an upright fork of a deciduous understory sapling, shrub, or tree, occasionally in a vine tangle or old vireo nest; nest usually is about 1-6 m above ground, sometimes as high as 28 m.

Southeastern U.S.: Primary breeding habitats in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain are bottomland hardwoods and swamps, especially in extensive stands. In the mountains this species occurs in hardwoods along streams, usually where it is open and not heavily wooded. Birds are less frequent in medium-growth hardwood forests away from water. Hamel et al. (1982) described the key habitat requirements for breeding as hardwood forests near water. They provided the following details on habitat use and suitability in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The following five vegetation types used by this species in five physiographic provinces (Mountains, Sandhills, Piedmont, Inner Coastal Plain, and Outer Coastal Plain) are considered in order of suitability: elm-ash-cottonwood is suitable at the sapling-poletimber stage, optimal at the late-successional sawtimber stage; southern mixed mesic hardwoods and oak-gum-cypress are suitable at both the sapling-poletimber stage and sawtimber stage; oak-hickory and cove-hardwoods are marginal habitat at the sapling-poletimber stage and suitable at the sawtimber stage. In all cases, shrubs and midstory are used for all activities (feeding/foraging, nesting, perching, roosting, and singing), whereas the overstory is used for feeding/foraging, perching, roosting, and singing, but not nesting. No specific vegetation sizes were given. Yellow birch is significantly preferred for nesting, and fledging success is significantly higher in yellow birch than beech or sugar maple; this result is especially true for large, old trees. Nest concealment from predators accounts for these patterns (Crew and Sherry, unpubl. data). Northeastern and north-central U.S.: In New York, breeders use low, damp woods and have been found in mixed woodland with a considerable growth of pine and hemlock; in the Adirondacks, nest sites often occur where spruces predominate. In Ohio, Michigan, and other sections of the Midwest, this species inhabits the maple, elm, ash, and pine-oak association of the larger, more mature swamp forests, although it is sometimes found among similar trees and brush in the larger upland woods. In the far Northwest, it shows a decided preference for willow trees and alder thickets. In Maine, the bird is found in hardwood or mixed deciduous and coniferous woodlands; these may be low, damp situations but birds are also often found in the second-growth of trees and brush of the dry sandy plains. Alder and willow thickets bordering streams and ponds are used here also (Bent 1953). In New Hampshire, redstarts are especially abundant in second-growth edge and in old-age northern hardwood forests, but they also occur in other moist woodlands, mixed hardwood-conifer woods, and alder and willow thickets. Here, this species breeds from near sea level to above 3000 ft (910 m), where the highest elevation hardwoods grade into conifers in the White Mountains (Sherry and Holmes 1994).

Quantitative habitat measures have been documented in a few studies. Sabo (1980) measured habitat selection in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and listed the following parameters: mean elevation - 830 m, canopy height - 10.4 m, canopy coverage - 74%, conifer foliage volume - 38%, conifer foliage cover (0-2 m) - 20%, broad leaf foliage volume (>5 m) - 92%, and dbh of live trees - 11 cm. Collins et al. (1982) quantified habitat in north-central Minnesota: ground cover - 67.7%, shrub cover - 70.7%, canopy cover - 66.3%, canopy height - 14.5 m, conifers - 4.7%, and numbers of species of trees per 0.04 ha circle - 4. In addition, Collins et al. (1982) surveyed vegetation and recorded the numbers of trees in different size classes: 10.7 (7.5-15 cm), 10.7 (15.1-23 cm), 8.2 (23.1-30 cm), 4.6 (30.1-38 cm), 1.1 (38.1-53 cm), 0.3 (53.1-68 cm), and 0.1 (>68.1 cm). Sherry and Holmes (1985, unpubl. data) documented significant preferences for deciduous stands of trees along a deciduous-coniferous gradient.

NON-BREEDING: In winter and migration, habitats include various kinds of forests, woodlands, scrublands, and thickets, including mangroves; uses a wide variety of agricultural habitats (e.g., cacao, citrus, pine plantations, mango, and sun and shade coffee plots) (Robbins et al. 1992). Primary wintering habitats are mainly in broadleaf evergreen woods and thickets, such as hammocks and mangroves (Hamel et al. 1982). In Venezuela, mangroves were a transitory habitat, used primarily in the middle of the wintering period by a low number of females (Lefebvre et al. 1992). In Jamaica, widespread in various habitats and are regularly found in drought-deciduous dry limestone forest, citrus, wet limestone forest (evergreen), gardens, and residential areas (Holmes et al. 1989, Holmes and Sherry 1992); they tend to be most abundant at lower elevations (Sherry, pers. comm.). Redstarts in Jamaica segregated by sex, with males in mangroves and females mainly in contiguous scrub habitat (Parrish and Sherry 1994). In the Dominican Republic, habitats include strand vegetation, mangroves, scrub, disturbed dry forest, riparian, urban, disturbed wet forest, mesic forest, and wet forest (Arendt 1992). In the Yucatan Peninsula, redstarts prefer moist forest, but also inhabit dry forest, wet forest, field and pasture, and acahual; late-successional forest stages are clearly preferred (Lynch 1992); redstarts were the third most common species found in mature semi-evergreen forest (after hooded [WILSONIA CITRINA] and magnolia warblers [DENDROICA MAGNOLIA]); were also found in mid-successional Acahual although less commonly so, and were rarely found in field/pasture habitat (Lynch 1989).


In the southeast, favors bottomland hardwoods and swamps in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, and hardwoods along streams in the mountains (Hamel 1992).

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
75 Tidal Swamp Forest Swamp tupelo dominated forest with or without black tupelo and/or cypress trees. Restricted to the tidal zones in the coastal plain. May have inclusions of coastal red cedar woodlands. Tidal cypress - gum swamp
173 Coastal Plain Riverbank Shrubs Shrub dominated riverbanks, commonly dominated by willows and/or alders. Sand and Mud Bar
50 Coastal Plain Mixed Bottomland Forests Includes forests dominated by a variety of hardwood species, including sweetgum, cottonwood, red maple. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwood (in part), Coastal Plain Levee Forest
49 Coastal Plain Oak Bottomland Forest Bottomland forests dominated by deciduous oak alliances. Oaks represented can include swamp chestnut, cherrybark, willow, and/or overcup oak. Inclusions of loblolly pine temporarily flooded forests occur in patches. Hydrology is temporarily to seasonally flooded. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwoods (in part) blackwater subtype, brownwater subtype
158 Coastal Plain Nonriverine Wet Flat Forests Loblolly pine - Atlantic white-cedar - red maple - swamp tupelo saturated forests as well as forests dominated by loblolly, sweetgum, and red maple in non-riverine flats. Non-riverine Wet Hardwood Forest
15 Seepage and Streamhead Swamps Includes extensive peat flats in the coastal plain, dominated by swamp tupelo, maples, and Atlantic white cedar alliances. In the sandhills includes streamhead pond pine and bay forests alliances. Saturated hydrology. Bay Forest, Small Depression Pocosin, Streamhead Atlantic White Cedar Forest, Streamhead Pocosins
30 Cypress-Gum Floodplain Forests Swamps dominated by black or swamp tupelo with or without Taxodium. Seasonally to semi-permanently flooded hydrology. Cypress-Gum Swamps
78 Pond-Cypress - Gum Swamps, Savannas and Lakeshores Cypress dominated swamps and lakeshores. Can include bays dominated by pond cypress or shorelines of coastal plain lakes with a narrow band of cypress. Non-riverine Swamp Forest, Natural Lakeshores (in part)
385 Oak Bottomland Forest and Swamp Forest The swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, shumard oak and sweetgum alliance is one representative. Other alliances are dominated by water, willow, and overcup oaks. Swamp forests can be dominated by sweetgum, red maple, and black gum being dominant. Loblolly can occur in combination with sweetgum and red maple, or with tulip poplar. Includes saturated and semi- to permanently flooded forests in the mountains. Piedmont/Mountain Bottomland Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Swamp Forest
63 Coastal Plain Mesic Hardwood Forests Beech dominated forests with white oak and northern red oak as possible co-dominants. Dry-mesic to mesic forests on slopes and small stream bottoms in the coastal plain. Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, Basic Mesic Forests
267 Riverbank Shrublands Riverside shrubs with temporarily flooded hydrologies. Found in the both the Mountains and Piedmont. Containing dominants such as smooth alder and a Carolina or black willows. Sand and Mud Bar
269 Floodplain Wet Shrublands Saturated shrublands of the Piedmont, includes buttonbush, swamp-loosestrife, decodon and alders. Piedmont/mountain Semipermanent Impoundment
230 Piedmont Mesic Forest American Beech - Red Oak - White Oak Forests. Mesic Mixed Hardwood
384 Piedmont/Mountain Mixed Bottomland Hardwood Forests Includes temporarily to seasonally forests dominated by hardwood species. Hardwoods include sweetgum, red maple, sycamore which co-occur in a mosaic of bottomland and levee positions. Includes alluvial hardwood forests in the mountains. Hemlock and white pine may occur as inclusions, but are generally mapped separately. Piedmont/Mountain Alluvial Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Levee Forest
51 Deciduous Cultivated Plantation Planted deciduous trees. Includes sweetgum and sycamore plantations. No equivalent
36 Successional Deciduous Forests Regenerating deciduous trees with a shrub stature. Commonly dominated by sweetgum, tulip poplars and maples. No equivalent
522 Northern Hardwoods High Elevation forests including yellow birch, American beech, and yellow buckeye. Includes forests with Hemlock and Yellow Birch. Northern Hardwoods Forest, Boulderfield Forest
525 Appalachian Oak Forest A variety of oak forest types including Black, White, Scarlet Oaks in dry to mesic situations. Includes forests historically co-dominated by American Chestnut. High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Montane White Oak Forest
526 Appalachian Cove Forest Mixed Mesophytic forests of the mountains. Includes tuliptree, basswood, yellow buckeye and surgar maple. This class is mapped to include cove forests dominated or co-dominated by hemlock. Rich Cove Forest, Acidic Cove Forest
533 Appalachian Swamp Forest Evergreen and deciduous forests with saturated hydrologies. This class may contain a variety of trees species, including hemlock - red maple, pitch pine, and white pine forests. Swamp Forest-Bog Complex, Southern Appalachian Bog, Southern Appalachian Fen
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 200 meters from an open water feature.
Exclude all land greater than 200 meters from wet vegetation.
Limited to elevation range: less than 4000 ft.
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Alsop FJ III. 1991. Birds of the Smokies. Gatlinburg: Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association.

Arendt, W.J. 1992. Status of North American migrant landbirds in the Caribbean region:a summary. Pages 143-171 in J.M. Hagan III, and D.W. Johnston, editors. Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrant landbirds. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washing

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853