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The secret life of the black redstart

Although they have adapted to urban life, timid birds still keep their distance from humans

The black redstart is around 7 inches long and the male is dark grey or black on his back and breast, and bright terracotta on his lower rump and tail with just the two central tail feathers dark red. The female is grey with a terracotta lower rump and tail.

They can be seen perched on a wire, a roof or a rock singing and puffing up their feathers, wagging their tails and swinging their heads back on the final note of the song. On the ground, they hop from place to place, never staying still. 

Black redstarts mate for life, although sometimes the partnership will include a second female.

The male will defend his mate aggressively and she, in turn, defends her chicks.

Black redstarts live near water and wetlands, where they prey on insects in the air. In coastal areas, they hunt for flies or tiny crustaceans in and around seaweed deposits left by high tides. In the autumn, if there are not enough insects around, they will also eat berries.

They have adapted to build nests of moss and feathers in crevices or holes in buildings, having originally inhabited stony ground in mountains and cliffs - and began moving towards cities around a century ago, and could be found nesting in bombed-out buildings after World War Two.

Today, not particularly appreciating human company, they find places to nest in industrial areas with tall cliff-like buildings. They can be found at altitudes of up to 2,500ft. They will return to nest in the same place every year, but always build a completely new nest.

In France, the black redstart is a protected species and the main threat to it is habitat loss as industrial buildings are increasingly built with smooth glass or perspex walls.

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