Dubbed ‘little brown jobbies’ due to their various shades of brown, the dunnock is more often referred to as a ‘hedge sparrow’. Both adult sexes look alike, with heavily streaked back and cap with grey face, throat, and breast. They sport thin dark bills, and orange brown legs, with rich black streaks on their wings Juveniles are more unevenly streaked, with a grey and brown streaking on their underside, looking untidy.
Average Length: 13-14.5 cm
Average Lifespan: 2-5 Years
Average Wingspan: 19-21 cm
Dunnocks can be found foraging on the ground, hopping about close to bushes due to their shy nature. They eat mainly insects and seeds, with a preference for beetles. Dunnock nestlings are fed mostly beetles and small flies, with the occasional spider for good measure!
How to feed: Ground feeders
What to feed: Seed mix and sunflower hearts
Dunnocks are unusual, in that they display a variety of different mating systems. They have been known to exhibit polygamy, with some males having multiple mates, and some females having multiple males. Many males perform ‘mate guarding’ behaviours, to prevent other males from copulating with females to ensure paternity of the chicks. Nests are cup shaped and constructed from moss, stems, leaves, and roots, lined by hair, feathers and moss. Breeding season for dunnocks takes place often between April-July, where they lay 2-3 broods annually, with 4-5 eggs in each clutch. The eggs are incubated by the female for approximately 2 weeks, followed by a further 2 weeks of feeding by males and females before the chicks can fledge.
Dunnocks are amber listed on the birds of conservation concern and have been steadily declining for many years. Though the causes of decline are not known, it is thought to be due to changes in agriculture and the loss of hedgerows in some parts of the country. The move from over-winter stubbles has left many birds with a lack of food for the winter months, causing declines in farmland bird species. Furthermore, predation may be an issue as a European ringing study has found that dunnocks have some of the highest rates of predation by domestic cats, with over 36% of dunnocks ringed predated by cats.
Dunnocks, known as ‘heysugge’ in Old English, or ‘hedge sparrow’ are a popular host species for cuckoo eggs. They have been parasitised by cuckoos for at least the least 600 years, as Chaucer mentions in his poem “The Parlement of Foules”.
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