Redstarts live in Pennsylvania from late spring through mid-autumn, where they bop around trees and shrubs catching insects. They flick their brightly colored tails—splashed with orange in mature males, and with yellow in females and younger males—to confuse insects, flushing them out of their hiding places. This flickering effect is why in parts of Latin America, where many Redstarts overwinter, they’re called “candelitas”—little candles. The flashing colors of their tails and wings remind other people of butterflies opening and closing, gracing the Redstart with another moniker.
But in Jamaica their nicknames come from other thoughts. There they’re called Christmas birds because they arrive from Pennsylvania and other east coast locations in time for Christmas. These clever little foragers are especially fond of outhouses and garbage dumps, since that’s where they find abundant flies—hence the alternate nickname of “latrine bird.”
Besides latrines and dumps, in places like Jamaica and Costa Rica Redstarts gravitate towards coffee shrubs grown alongside shade trees. Trees provide these little charmers with protection from predators, and the coffee shrubs provide a feast of insects. Redstarts greatly help farmers by eating the hard-to-control coffee-berry borer, a beetle the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “the world’s most devastating coffee pest”; where there aren’t enough insectivorous birds, this borer can ruin 80% of a farmer’s crop.