If a little brown bird is jerkily running along the ground, stopping at cracks in paving and disappearing down the earthy edges around your lawn before scuttling off under plants and out of sight then you could be looking at a Dunnock. This bird is one of my garden favs.
Watching the Dunnock you could easily see why for many years it was known as the hedge sparrow. However, the Dunnock is not related to the sparrow at all. The species name for the Dunnock is Prunella modularis. It comes from the family Prunellidae and the order Passiformes.
Wait a minute … don’t be put off thinking this is going to be a full-on bird profile. Considering how many websites have information on this 'not so dull’ little brown bird I have decided to add links at the end of this post to explain via videos and other reading.
Considering this post as a help to ID the Dunnock for people here in the UK (new to birds) and those taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (this weekend) for the first time I thought some visual clues would be best. I know this would have helped me. Hopefully this format will work for visitors outside the UK too.
So… does a Dunnock visit your garden?. Here are some visual clues…
Looking at the colour of legs any bird has is a great clue to what it is and the shape of the beak tells you what kind of food it usually eats. In the case of the Dunnock, it needs a thin sharp beak to search for insects in hidden places.
Lol... the live mini mealworms (in what was thought to be a hidden spot) for a single Mum Blue tit using our nestbox a few years ago didn't last long when the Dunnock parents found them!
However, when it comes to winter months when every morsel of food foraged for goes to getting enough energy to survive a very cold night you will find birds eating a bigger variety of foods. You may also see the Dunnock take seeds from bird tables. In my garden they will visit bird tables throughout the year.
Videos are a great way to help ID a visiting garden bird. I have found them very helpful myself when I see a new visitor to my garden.
The Dunnock doesn’t often perch out in open for long except on high tree branches when singing. Although a very short video capture I was thrilled with the first video below.
Equally special was the video capture of a Dunnock juvenile being fed by a possible parent (see further reading) back in 2010. I had never seen this before.
The capture below was taken with a previous video camera so the quality is not as sharp but it is still okay quality and a nice one to see. It also shows the birds feeding along edges and jerkily hopping for cover.
In my garden, Dunnock juveniles are the first juveniles to be seen in my garden each year. With the video above being taken in August I could take a reasonably accurate guess that they have 3 broods a year here.
However things don't always go to plan for this little bird which measures just 14cm (5½in)in length. The Dunnock is also one of the host species for the Cuckoo (32-33cm/12-13in in length).
Back in December 2011 I posted a brilliant photo of a Dunnock parent standing on the back of the fledged Cuckoo. There is also a video showing how the newly hatched Cuckoo chick removes the host bird's eggs and chicks (this time the host is a Reed Warbler). Although fascinating the video is hard to watch too.
In summary when it comes to the breeding season this is not a dull little bird species at all. Females (after mated) often court other males to ensure an adequate supply of food for their chicks. More details can be found in the video links below together with lots more info and images - enjoy!
Video from BBC NATURE WILDLIFE Life of Birds: Dunnock females give up on monogamy to enlist more male support. View Devoted Dunnocks?
Video from BBC NATURE WILDLIFE Birds Britannia: Drab and sobre-looking, the dunnock indulges in just about every sexual strategy there is. View Scandalous birds.
RSPB Dunnock Profile including song and video.
BTO BirdFacts for Dunnock includes lots of stats, images, video and sound.
This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2012.