Also called the ‘Hedge Sparrow’ or ‘Hedge Accentor’, the Dunnock is an unobtrusive, plain bird with black and brown streaky back plumage, greyish underside, a streaked brown cap, a grey throat and face, a distinct brown eye, and a dark fine bill. Its legs are orange-brown. The adults are similar, although the female is a little duller. Similar to the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), but the Dunnock has a much finer beak for eating insects and seeds.
It forages for food on the ground, eating small insects, worms and seeds, and will visit garden feeding stations. The females often court up to two males which ensures plentiful supplies of food for the chicks. The nest is a small grassy cup lined with hair and moss, built in a bush or hedge. It lays 4 or 5 eggs in 3 broods between the months of April and July. Dunnocks have quite complex social and sexual systems, where the male often mates with two or more females, and the female with more than one male. They can live for up to 5 years.
They are seen all year round, and are found on heaths and moors with low dense scrub, woodland edges, hedgerows, parks and bushy gardens. Dunnocks have endured serious decline during the 1970s and 1980s, most likely due to changes in their habitat and food availability, and have been struggling to pick up their numbers since. However, they are still fairly common and widespread throughout the British Isles, and the amber conservation status makes us keep a watchful eye on them.
The Common Cuckoo targets the Dunnock, amongst other birds, and lays its eggs in its nest. When the Cuckoo chick hatches it will push the Dunnock eggs out of the nest, giving itself preference for feeding via the Dunnock parent, which does not seem to realise anything is wrong, even from the outset as the Cuckoo eggs don’t even look the same as that of the Dunnock.