Alert Status: Amber - 36% decline
Identifying Features: Also known as a hedge sparrow. Looks like a dull grey sparrow. The black beak is finer than a sparrow’s
Average Length: 14.5cm
Average Lifespan: 2 Years
Average Wingspan: 19 - 21cm
Beak type: Insects
Natural: Beetles and ants, and spiders, seeds and berries
How to feed: Ground feeders
What to feed: Sunflower hearts, mixed seeds, cheese
Nesting: In dense shrubs & hedges; cup-shaped nest made of moss & twigs & lined with moss & hair
Where to see: Widespread across the UK. Woodland, farmland, parks & gardens. Usually seen on the ground close to cover.
The dunnock, when seen from a distance, can appear rather boring. However, a closer look reveals beautiful oak-brown and black streaks over its body. With grey on both the face and breast, males and females are very similar in appearance.
Young birds have pale bills and light speckled feathers, with a brown face. Their eyes are olive brown, these become a stunning mahogany-red by their first Christmas!
Feeding on small insects such as ants and spiders in warmer months and berries and seeds during winter, this shy little bird is often seen alone. About the same size as a robin, dunnock’s are usually seen foraging on the ground, shuffling, almost mouse-like, in search of food. They can come across as rather nervous, with constant flicking of the tail and wings.
Dunnock’s nest between April and July. The females will build cup shaped nests, in hedges and covered areas, using twigs and moss, finally lining with hair. The chicks will hatch from their blue, glossy eggs, in around two weeks, fledging from around 12 days later. Both parents are involved in the feeding of their young. Interestingly, other ‘baby-sitting’ dunnock’s will also feed another pair’s young!
The dunnock’s nest is a popular choice for the cuckoo to lay its eggs. Despite the stark colour difference of the eggs, it doesn’t seem that dunnock’s are capable of ejecting these ‘imposter’ eggs, which suggests that dunnock’s are a relatively recent host that hasn’t evolved a response to this act of parasitism.
This little brown bird has a rather colourful love life! The female will sometimes have multiple partners meaning that chicks within the same brood may have different fathers! An advantage of this is that there will be more than one male, helping to bring food to the chicks. However, males have become wise to this and are known to peck at the female’s cloaca to encourage her to reject the sperm. The male dunnock is also more than happy to have more than one partner!
The dunnock is also known as the ‘hedge sparrow’ even though it’s not actually a sparrow, but a member of a small family of birds, called accentors.
Dunnocks live for approximately two years. The current longevity record, for this species, is 11 years and 3 months!
Dunnocks take just one-tenth of a second to copulate, and can mate more than 100 times a day!