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Dunnock

Hedge Accentor Dunnock Both Sexes
Streaky grey-brown plumage.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Prunella modularis
Length: 14.5 cm  (6")
Wing Span: 19-21 cm  (7-8")
Weight: 16-25 g  (½-1 oz)  
Breeding Pairs: 2 000 000
Present: All Year
Status: Amber

Description

At first glance the Dunnock, also known as Hedge Sparrow or Hedge Accentor, looks like a dull sleek sparrow.

On closer inspection it is quite attractive with its blue-grey head and breast, light and dark brown streaky back, brown streaked flanks and pink legs. The black bill is finer than that of a sparrow, because it feeds mainly on insects and not seed.

The sexes are very alike, though the female is a little drabber.

Juveniles lack the grey on head and chest, instead they have brown streaks.

The Dunnock seems nervous and agitated, constantly flicking its tail and wings.

They are the only Accentor to live in lowland areas, all others live in upland and mountainous regions.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

The Dunnock's song is a pleasant surprise also; an unhurried sweet warble which can be confused with the Wren or Robin, but lacks the Wren's intensity and the Robin's sweetness.

The main call is shrill, persistent "tseep", which often betrays its otherwise inconspicuous presence.

Feeding

The Dunnock is predominantly a ground feeder and feeds on insects, such as beetles and 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 months, Dunnocks have taken small seeds, such as peanut granules, and suet off or around the ground feeder table.

The 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 often chases the Dunnock away.

Nesting

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.

Dunnock nests are often parasitized by Cuckoos.

The female lays and incubates bright blue, smooth and glossy eggs that are about 19 mm by 14 mm. Both adults feed the newly-hatched young, but are often assisted by other male birds.

The Dunnock's sex life is remarkable; few are monogamous and most are either polyandrous (females have more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate).

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April 2-3 4-6 12-13 11-12

Movements

British populations are mainly sedentary with only short dispersive movements by juveniles, but continental birds are migratory to varying degrees; some Scandinavian birds over-winter in eastern Britain.

Conservation

The Dunnock is on the Amber List of birds of medium conservation concern because after a serious decline in numbers during the 1980's, indications are that the population is recovering, but may be struggling in its "natural habitat" owing to changes in woodland management practices.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

The chart shows that there is usually only one or two Dunnocks present in the garden for much of the time. Towards the end of the winter there can be up to four Dunnocks, though only a couple of them visit the garden at once. This corresponds with the time of year that they establish their complex mating systems.

At the beginning of July 1998, four Dunnocks visited. These could have been adult birds with one or more young, but it's difficult to tell them apart. A fortnight later an impressive group of 14 birds visited, could this have been a crèche, or the result of infidelity?

In the winter of 2003/4, a Dunnock visiting our garden had knobbly warts, or papillomas, growing on its claws. This is caused by a virus, which is more common in finches, and though most birds recover it can cause lameness.


Last revision: 21 Feb 2015
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2016.
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