Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

This is one of the few species of bird that actively seems to prefer urban areas, and observers generally need to be active in the F1 habitat to record them. One bird was found during this winter Atlas, on 16 and 17 December 2004 in two adjacent tetrads at Prenton/ Woodchurch (SJ28X/ Y).

There appear to be two components to the British wintering birds: some breeding birds probably stay all year round, while others arrive from continental breeding areas to the east, finding milder weather here (Migration Atlas). This is a rare breeding bird in the UK, covered by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, with a mean of 67 pairs in the ten years to 2004. Black Redstarts have bred in Cheshire, in at least 1973, 1974, 1977 and 1995, and recently in adjoining counties: confirmed breeding in Derbyshire in 2003, and possibly in 2004; and pairs probably bred in 2003 in Lancashire and North Merseyside and in 2004 in Greater Manchester (Holling et al 2007).

Wintering Black Redstarts have obviously become much more common over the years. Coward (1910) had no definite knowledge of any. The first confidently identified in winter was in November 1926, when one frequented a garden at Wistaston, near Crewe, for several days, followed on 20 December 1938 by one at Newbridge near Winsford (Bell 1962). In the years from 1945 to 1961, for which Bell (1962) just gives a monthly summary, there was at least one January record. The annual county bird reports from 1964 onwards list 29 occurrences in winter, with 9 first recorded in the second half of November, 7 in December, 7 in January and 6 in February. A handful of the birds stayed for weeks, but such occurrences are probably under-recorded. Although averaging fewer than one record per winter, in some years there were up to four, with also some long periods of several years without a winter record: after 1996 there were only three records, for single days each in 2000/ 01, 2002/ 03 and 2003/ 04, until those recorded in this Atlas.

The BTO Winter Atlas showed that Black Redstarts were ‘largely coastal in distribution’, but that is not true of the Cheshire and Wirral records. Ten of the 29 winter records from 1964 to 2003 were at north Wirral migration sites, with the others spread widely across the county and in such odd sites that it seems likely that other birds are being missed.