Dunnock

Prunella modularis

Last updated: March 22, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Rosemarie Kappler/Shutterstock.com

Both male and female dunnocks can have multiple mates every breeding season

Dunnock Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Prunellidae
Genus
Prunella
Scientific Name
Prunella modularis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Dunnock Conservation Status

Dunnock Locations

Dunnock Locations

Dunnock Facts

Prey
Insects, spiders, worms, and seeds
Fun Fact
Both male and female dunnocks can have multiple mates every breeding season
Estimated Population Size
25-44 million mature individuals
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
The dark streaks on the back
Other Name(s)
Hedge accentor, hedge sparrow, or hedge warbler
Wingspan
19-21cm (7.5-8.2in)
Incubation Period
12-13 days
Habitat
Shrubs, woodlands, hedgerows, and gardens
Predators
Cats and sparrowhawks
Diet
Omnivore
Type
Bird
Common Name
Dunnock
Number Of Species
1
Location
Europe and Western Asia
Nesting Location
Shrubs or trees
Age of Molting
11-12 days
Migratory
1

Dunnock Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Black
Lifespan
Up to 11 years old
Weight
19-24g (0.6-0.9oz)
Height
14cm (5.5in)

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The dunnock is one of the few birds in which the female maintains its own territory.

The dunnock is a small songbird that originated from Europe. It goes by many names, including hedge sparrow and hedge accentor. However, it is not really a sparrow at all, but rather a type of accentor. The identification between them can be a little tricky on account of similar appearances. The most interesting thing about them is that their mating system runs the gamut between fully monogamous and fully polygamous, depending on the circumstances. If you want to attract a dunnock to your backyard, then you should provide them with a simple shelter and clean water. They do not use nest boxes very much.

3 Dunnock Amazing Facts

  • The English name dunnock comes from a combination of dun, meaning brown, and the diminutive ock. A diminutive denotes smallness.
  • If a female has already mated with multiple partners, then the male dunnock has the ability to remove the sperm from her last partner. This promotes their own sperm at the expense of others.
  • Male dunnocks will sometimes invest time into raising juveniles that are not his own if he has previously mated with the mother.

Where to Find the Dunnock

The dunnock can be found in shrubs, hedgerows, and mixed forests (occasionally even coastal cliffs and dunes as well) throughout most of Europe and western Asia. They were also introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century and have since thrived there. The dunnock is one of the few accentors that lives outside of mountain habitats.

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Dunnock Nests

The dunnock’s nest is constructed from twigs and moss and then lined with wool, feathers, and other soft material. The nest is usually found in a bush or conifer tree.

Dunnock Scientific Name

The scientific name of the dunnock is Prunella modularis. Prunella comes from the diminutive form of the Latin word brunus or prunus, meaning brown. Modularis is a Latin word that means modulating or singing. The dunnock’s closest living relatives include the brown accentor, Japanese accentor, robin accentor, and several other species within the same genus. Eight subspecies of the dunnock are currently recognized. Although a few taxonomists have suggested that some of these could be made their own separate species, for now they are considered subspecies of the dunnock.

Dunnock Size, Appearance, and Behavior

The dunnock is a small robin-sized bird with a plump, rounded body and thin, pointed beak. It measures 5 to 6 inches from head to tail with a wingspan of around 8 inches long. The breast and face are marked by bluish gray plumage, whereas the wings and tail have brown plumage with dark black streaks in them. Males and females look similar to each other, which can make identification difficult, but juveniles tend to have less gray than the adults.

The dunnock is mostly a quiet, shy bird that hunts for food near bushes, gardens, and hedgerows with its distinctive shuffling gait. When two rival males encounter each other, they descend into an animated flurry of wing flicking and loud calls. The bird song, which is produced by the males in the breeding season, resembles a harsh, squeaking warble sound. Unusual among birds, both male and female dunnocks create and defend their own separate territories.

Dunnock Migration and Timing

The dunnock is mostly a sedentary species that remains in the same place all year round, but in the coldest part of its range, it will travel short distances to escape the winter weather.

Dunnock Diet

The dunnock is an omnivorous bird. It can often be seen flitting around a bush, pecking at the ground in search of food.

What does the dunnock eat?

The dunnock mostly feeds on insects, worms, and spiders. It will also supplement this with small seeds in the winter.

Dunnock Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Redlist, the dunnock is a species of least concern; populations appear to be robust and widespread. But it still faces a few challenges in the wild. The loss of brush and hedgerows has made it difficult for some populations to survive. They are also victimized by cuckoos that lay their eggs in the dunnock’s nest and trick the parents into raising its offspring at the expense of the dunnock chicks.

What eats the dunnock?

The dunnock is preyed upon by cats, sparrowhawks, and other birds of prey. They can chase the predator away by mobbing it.

Dunnock Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Dunnocks have extremely versatile reproductive strategies that depend on food density and the ratio of males to females. When food is particularly abundant, the females will reduce their territorial size, allowing males to more easily monopolize access to mates. In this scenario, a single male (or even two joint males) will have exclusive mating access to several females. When food is scarce, however, females will greatly increase their territorial size, which can lead to the opposite scenario: a single female monopolizing reproductive access to several males.

The dunnock breeding season usually takes place in the spring with a communal display in which the birds hop around, flick their wings, and make a staccato song. After choosing a mate, the pair can copulate once or twice an hour during the entire 10-day mating period. The female will produce three to six blue-colored eggs.

After an incubation period lasting nearly two weeks, the chicks are born naked and helpless. Both males and females, sometimes arranged in cooperative groups, take turns feeding and caring for the young. The juveniles will fledge a mere 11 or 12 days later, and mature dunnocks can produce up to three broods per mating season. Due to predation and disease, their average lifespan of two years is incredibly short. Many of these birds will only have a few chances to breed before they die. The record for the longest-living dunnock was about 11 years and three months.

Dunnock Population

The dunnock has an estimated population size of 25 million to 44 million individuals, but there is a lot of uncertainty that makes it difficult to establish a more accurate population count. Nevertheless, population numbers do appear to be declining in some areas.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Dunnock FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the dunnock migrate?

Northern populations migrate short distances for the winter.

How many eggs does the dunnock lay?

The female can lay three to six eggs per clutch.

How fast does the dunnock fly?

The flight speed of the dunnock is not known with any degree of accuracy.

What is the dunnock’s wingspan?

The dunnock has a typical wingspan of about 8 inches.

When do dunnocks leave the nest?

They typically leave the nest after fledging some 11 to 12 days into their lives.

Is a dunnock the same as a hedge sparrow?

Yes, they are two names for the exact same species, but hedge sparrow is actually a misnomer. The dunnock is an accentor, not a sparrow.

Are dunnocks rare in the UK?

Dunnocks are incredibly common in the United Kingdom. It’s estimated that more than 2 million dunnocks alone live in the country.

How do you tell a dunnock from a sparrow?

Identification between the two species can be quite challenging, because they both have a gray breast and brown wings with black streaks. The easiest way to tell them apart is that the house sparrow has more black in its plumage, particularly around the face and neck, and brown on the top of its head. They also have larger bills.

Is a dunnock a house sparrow?

The dunnock is not considered to be a house sparrow. They are members of completely different families.

Where do dunnocks nest?

The nest is typically constructed in bushes or trees.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/dunnock
  2. , Available here: https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/birds/facts-about-dunnocks/
  3. , Available here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/larks-sparrows-wagtails-and-dunnock/dunnock
  4. , Available here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/birdwatching/how-to-identify-birds/so-you-think-you-know-your-sparrows/

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