The Daurian redstart

Writer: Wang Haolan, Isaac Cohen   |  Editor: Liu Minxia  |  From: Shenzhen Daily

A female Daurian redstart is seen at the Liuhuashan area of Shenzhen Bay Park in Nanshan District on Jan. 2. Wang Haolan

The Daurian redstart

While walking past the sweet-scented osmanthus, plumeria or bougainvillea trees in local parks, the acute observer may catch a short, high-pitched whistling call made by a sparrow-sized bird. Perched prominently on a lower branch while frequently bobbing its tail, this small passerine bird is the Daurian redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus), a common migratory bird in Shenzhen in winter.


A male Daurian redstart is seen at Honghu Park in Luohu District on Nov. 11, 2021. Wang Haolan

Like most species of the flycatcher family, the Daurian redstart shows strong sexual dimorphism in the appearance of male and female individuals. Males have a gray cap and nape, black face and orange underbelly and tail. Their wings are black overall, yet decorated with a pair of triangular white patches. Females have a brownish body and wings, white eye rims and the same white wing patches and an orange tail just like the male. The species, which is around 13 to 15 cm in length, has big brown eyes, and itsbeak and legs are black.


A female Daurian redstart is seen at the Liuhuashan area of Shenzhen Bay Park in Nanshan District on Jan. 2. Wang Haolan

In Shenzhen, Daurian redstarts often reside in forest edges, parks, gardens and even some housing estates with lush vegetation. They like to perch on unsheltered tree branches, lower stumps and top of pillars or fences in search of insects, and will immediately return to their original searching spot after dashing out for food, showing the typical behavior of flycatchers. Small as it is, the species is a total insectivore, mainly consuming small insects and their larvae.


A female Daurian redstart is seen at a Shenzhen park in this file photo. Isaac Cohen 

Daurian redstarts are also highly territorial and may choose to stay in the same wintering habitat every year unless disturbed. They will become more aggressive during breeding seasons between late April and July, during which time males guard the nest and ward off intruders while females lay and incubate the eggs alone.


A female Daurian redstart is seen at the Liuhuashan area of Shenzhen Bay Park in Nanshan District on Jan. 2. Wang Haolan

As its English common name indicates, the Daurian redstart originates from the Dauria Steppe, a vast grassland spanning across Northeast China, east Mongolia and Russia’s Zabaikalsky province and Buryat Republic. The small birds will leave their breeding grounds in Northeast and Northwest China in early autumn, travel more than 3,000 kilometers to their wintering grounds to the south of Yangtze River in late October and relocate back to the north in the coming March, embracing their next generations and the cycle of life.