Dunnock (Prunella modularis)


Dunnocks enjoy insects, worms, spiders, seeds and berries. In winter they will visit feeding stations but feed mostly on the ground or around the bottom of bird tables, catching fallen food. It is worth placing small seeds, grated cheese and bread crumbs under the shelter of bushes and other garden plants where the dunnock will feel more confident feeding. As with other small birds their winter mortality rates can be high because the bird starves or because they take greater risks to get to food and leave themselves open to predation by cats or hawks.


The Dunnock is a small inconspicuous bird with brown plumage and a grey breast and head. They have thin bills and orange-brown legs and both sexes look similar. The juveniles are spottier than the adults. They may seem quite unremarkable at first sight, but their appearance belies its interesting behaviour and extraordinary mating patterns.


Dunnocks are common in mixed and conifer woods with undergrowth, shrubby parkland and gardens. They construct their nest in dense cover or young conifers, producing two broods of 4-5 turquoise eggs that they incubate for 13 days. They have an interesting social system with a complicated breeding strategy. Varying numbers of males and females come together for mating and the female will mate with several males within her breeding territory and they all cooperate to raise the young. The female does this as it ensures that her chicks will receive an adequate supply of food from both males. To attract the females the males perform an animated dance, flicking their wings and calling. Outside of the breeding season the Dunnocks’ social behaviour is less complicated and during the winter months they may lead a solitary existence and only come together to feed in small groups if food is hard to come by.

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