British Bird of the Month: Dunnock

Dunnock (Hedge Accentor/Hedge Sparrow)  

Member of Prunellidae (Accentors) family


At first glance the Dunnock looks like a dull sleek sparrow, but on closer inspection it is attractive with its blue-grey head and breast, and fine delicate bill. The Dunnock is a busy bird that seems nervous and agitated, constantly flicking its tail and wings. They are the only non-alpine member of the European Accentor family.

The Dunnock’s song is an unhurried sweet warble which can be confused with the Wren or robin, but lacks the Wren’s intensity and the Robin’s sweetness. Its shrill, persistent “tseep” call often betrays its otherwise inconspicuous presence.

What They Eat & What You Can Offer Them

The Dunnock is predominantly a ground feeder and feeds on insects, such as beetles, ants, and spiders, which it gleans from leaf litter, among plant roots, etc. In the autumn and winter they will eat seeds and berries. Occasionally, especially in the winter, Dunnocks will take small seeds, such as peanut granules, and suet off or around a ground feeder table.

Robin and Dunnock have similar diets. Consequently, in the winter when food is in short supply and Robins are defending their feeding territories, the Robin will chase the Dunnock away.

Where They Live & How You Can Help Them

The nest is built by the female in dense shrubs and hedges. The cup-shaped nest is lined with moss and hair, and built from twigs and moss. Dunnocks can become the unwitting host for the parasitic Cuckoo.

Leaving an uncut native British hedge could provide suitable nesting sites for Dunnocks. They can have 2-3 clutches of 4-6 eggs which take about 12 days to incubate.

And Finally……..

The name “dunnock” comes from the Ancient British dunnākos, meaning “little brown one”.

For a rather ordinary looking bird, the Dunnock’s sex life is remarkable. They are rarely monogamous and most are either polyandrous (females have more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate). Chicks in a single nest have been shown to have DNA from more than one male. Dunnocks take just one-tenth of a second to copulate, and can have sex more than 100 times a day. Phew!


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