The Dunnock

Photograph by Dal

The dunnock  Prunella modularis

This little "brown bird" is one of my favourite garden birds which often announce their presence with their high pitched warble-like song, which has been described as being similar to the noise made by the squeaky wheels of a supermarket trolly.

Although named for decades as the hedge sparrow that is a misnomer for the bird is not a sparrow which is evident when one looks at its bill which is thin adapted for seeking out insects as opposed to the house and tree sparrows thick solid bill adapted for seed eating. The dunnock also sings as opposed to the monotonous chirp of the sparrow. The dunnock is a member of the Accentor family which derives from the Latin "cantor" meaning to sing.

The dunnock is found throughout Britain and the north of England holds viable populations. In the year 2000 there was an estimated 2,163,000 territories in Britain {source B.T.O.} However, in the mid 1970s and the mid 1980s losses were recorded in population numbers, since then there has been signs of population stability. They are still listed on the Amber list of conservation concern. One criteria for this listing means there has been a decline of over 25% but not over 50% in population or/and  distribution since the 1970s. It is a bird that may be encountered in gardens, woodland edge, scrub, heath land and moor land.

Description of the dunnock.

The plumage is a warm brown above, streaked darker, while the head throat and breast are a soft grey tinged with slate blue in the breeding season. The birds iris is of a dull colour when young but changes to a bright fiery orange in adults.

In relation to its body the wings are small/medium, tail medium and forked, the neck is short, bill short and thin, legs medium pinkish brown.


photograph by Dal

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Breeding Nest and Eggs.

Until relatively recently little was known about the breeding habits of the dunnock and it was only after detailed studies were undertaken that some fascinating facts were revealed. Where food is scarce the female will mate with more than one partner. The males help to feed the young of the partner, thus a female may have two or three partners feeding her chicks, which is a helpful strategy when food is scarce,ie, four birds finding available food instead of the usual two.

Sometimes the male will mate with more than one female, this is a tangled and complexed web of breeding activity. Many birds may be feeding youngsters that are not his own,but, they seem happy to do so. Whichever way the female mated she will make a nest. The nest is open and cup shaped and substantially built. It is constructed of fine twigs, roots, grass stalks and moss with a thick lining of hair or fur of some kind. The bird is typical bush nester locating it low in a hedge,bush, or shrub, seldom more than a yard  {metre} from the ground.

The eggs which number 5-6 are a uniform greenish-blue which are generally devoid of gloss but they do vary in this respect, they are rather pointed. Incubation takes around 12 days and the task is carried out by the female.  The chicks are  naked except for down and are dependent on the parents.The young are fed by both {or more } parents  and fledge at around 12-15 days. The birds may raise up to three broods per season

The age at first breeding is 1 year.

Typical life span is 2 years.

The dunnock is often chosen as a host by the cuckoo.

According to the BTO Garden Bird watch survey {released in 2012} the dunnock continues do well in gardens. The 1995 figure showed that it was recorded in 77.3%. The 2011 figure is 75.5%. 




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Also see Birds via links banner .In depth articles about  the Dunnock{ Birds of Europe} with notes and observations from past ornithologists and other eminent writers.