Posted on April 1st, 2010 in Fact Sheet for individual birds by Trish

THE DUNNOCK:  Latin Name: Prunella modularis

Dunnock, Hedge Sparrow, Hedge Accentor

This little bird has had three names,  dunnock, hedge sparrow and hedge accentor.

Dunnocks often go unnoticed as they are dull coloured little birds.  They spend a lot of time on the ground or on fences, flying  in a jerky way and usually at low level

Also have a jerky movement when on the ground and are often flicking the wings and tail.

Feeding:  weed seeds, insects,  kitchen scraps.
Dunnocks look for food under hedges, lawns, along the edges of fields, garden feeders – usually ground feeders

The dunnock is mostly a ground feeder – searching for insects among the leaves on the ground

I get a lot of dunnocks in my garden.  They are shy little birds and can be easily missed as they flit about at the ground feeder and then quickly go into the hedgerow


  • Brown above,   which is streaked with soft black ,
  • ash grey face and breast. 
  • Dunnocks have a fine bill of an insect eating bird, but they do eat small seeds in winter.

The dunnock is a difficult bird to identify.  It takes a lot of observation.  More details  –
The fine bill is one of the ways of identifying ig.  Sparrows have thick bills
The head ash grey colour which is not streaked.  The grey goes from the head to the breast
The sides of the underparts are streaked
The tail is plain brown

Habitat  Gardens, hedgerows. scrub,  towns, villages, farmland – virtually everywhere

Dunnock looking for food

Dunnock looking for food

Song  tseep – call.  Short and fast.  Has been described as ‘squeeky’

The dunnock does not breed in pairs.  They  breed in groups.  The groups could be 3 males and three  females, but two females with two males are  usual

In the breeding season male dunnocks defend ‘their land’against other dunnocks by singing

Eggs:  4 to 5    Colour: Blue
Cuckoos often take over a dunnocks nest.  The cuckoo has a speckled egg and the dunnocks eggs do not have any markings – but the dunnock does not notice this

Incubation: 12 days. 

Often has two broods

Fledging: 12 days

Nest: Built by the female in shrubs and hedges.  Built from twigs an moss and lined with moss and hair

Size:  Length:  14cm.  Wingspan is 20cm


I still often get sparrows and dunnocks mixed up – but this doesn’t matter.  It is just interesting to try and identify  them sometimes.

Dunnocks like to feed near the shelter of bushes and garden plants – they must feel safe there and to me they seem secretative birds as they hop about undercover.

A lot of the photographs on Bird Table News have been taken by me but this time I could not get any s0 – Photographs by istockphoto

If you have any information or stories about dunnocks please add to this fact sheet.


31 Responses to 'DUNNOCK FACT SHEET'

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  1. DOMINIC said,

    on June 18th, 2011 at 9:12 am

    We have a bird nesting in our garden that we couldnt easily identify should be a Dunnock but the hen is almost a light Kaki coulour on her lower body uder her wings and back towards her tail.

  2. Trish said,

    on June 19th, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I think it is a dunnock, but click the links below and look at the photos. Let me know what you think and I’ll have another think.



  3. Jane White said,

    on June 20th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    We have a Dunnock nesting in our garden, immediately outside the kitchen window – she chose to nest in a shrub that I had chosen for removal, and I didn’t notice that she was there until I had cut most of it away (I won’t be doing that again without checking for nests first). She didn’t desert the nest however, and I have tied some of the branches back around to give her some protection. She seems to consider this to be very acceptable! There were 3 eggs when I first saw the nest, after which she laid 2 more. I was thrilled last Saturday to peep in and actually see one of the babies hatching. Since then, 3 more have hatched. I don’t know what happened to the 5th – the egg and contents have disappeared. She seems happy to have me peering in at her every day and looking in the nest regularly. I have only ever seen her on her own, and have not seen any males around helping out. The is the first time I have been able to see a baby bird hatching and the first time I have been able to keep such a close eye on proceedings, and it is absolutely wonderful.

  4. Ann said,

    on June 21st, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I kept seeing two dunnocks chirping loudly in the camellia against my front garden wall. To cut the story short, I realised that once the cat had gone, the birds flew into a 6 or 7 ft high conifer type tree about five feet from the lounge window. One of the dunnocks flitted up and down the dormer gutter while I was gardening, until it must have decided I was not a threat. Now I hear the chirrup of chicks when the adults go into the tree with food. What worries me is your comments about their feeding habits. On the ground and under cover makes them very vulnerable to the cat. I am thinking of putting a bird table somewhere in the garden, with some mealworms on it. What do you think of this idea?

  5. Trish said,

    on June 21st, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Jane, That sounds wonderful. How lucky you are to have noticed the nest before you cut more of the shrub.

    I know it’s best not to cut hedges this time of year because of birds nesting in them, never thought of shrubs.

    How lovely the dunnock doesn’t mind you being close. I find this with some of the garden birds I feed. The blackbirds especially hop to the grass before I put the feed out. The sparrows and dunnocks are there as well. If I stand near them when they are feeding it keeps the rooks and crows away. Rooks and crows won’t land if there is anyone in the garden.

    But it is special for you because you are seeing them in their nest. At home with the Dunnocks. Next year you will have a family of Dunnocks!

  6. Trish said,

    on June 21st, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Hi, I think it’s a great idea to put bird food out. I honestly don’t know if dunnocks feed from Bird Tables. I don’t think I have ever seen one on my birdtable, but sometimes the birds flit on and off so quickly I can’t make them out.

    I have a ground caged bird feeder that I use. I can alter the size of the mesh. I put this caged ground feeder on the grass near a shrub. It’s great because larger birds can’t get in. I think the smaller birds feel safe as they seem to spend a while inside it. The only problem is that blackbirds and thrushes can’t feed from it as they can’t get in either.

    How lovely to hear the chirrup of chicks

  7. Trish said,

    on June 21st, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Here is a link to an article about TRYING TO GET DUNNOCKS BACK INTO THE GARDEN


  8. Diana said,

    on July 5th, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I have what I think is a dunnock hopping around my garden. I have a vast range of birds but hadn’t noticed this before. It is grey-brown but doesn’t have the red legs shown on the website and is spotty front and back. Is the female or baby like this. It hasn’t changed in two weeks. Follows the shy, ground feeding habit. I cannot get a photo but I’ll keep on trying.#

  9. on December 4th, 2011 at 2:45 am

    […] DUNNOCK FACT SHEET | Bird Table NewsIn the south of England, dunnocks are the preferred host for cuckoos. Even though cuckoo eggs look very different to their own, dunnocks unwittingly rear giant … […]

  10. Kath Lloyd said,

    on June 29th, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    We have a Dunnock nesting in our Wysteria tree against the wall they perch on my folded clothes line and take it in turns to feed the young I enjoy sitting in the lounge watching them busy feeding there appears to be three birds feeding. 29-06-12 .

  11. dianne haist said,

    on July 29th, 2012 at 3:42 am

    Hi from NZ. This bird I have yet to find in my garden but all the others on the list I have seen in the garden survey. Does it rpefer rural to urban sites I wonder? Thanks for you photos and especially saying its beak is not as thick. Sincerely Dianne

  12. Trish said,

    on July 29th, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    It’s great that you have got in touch from New Zealand. It likes hedges and undergrowth and I’m glad you like the photos. You must have a lot of birds in your garden.

    We’re at the other side of the world to each other but we’re both interested in birds. It must be worldwide thing!

  13. Jo said,

    on October 29th, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I was standing watching the bird feeder this morning and noticed that a pair of Dunnocks flitting around the back border. They were dicing with death, diving in and out of the chicken run and pinching pellet feed. If the girls catch them, feathers will fly! They seem to be ignoring the bird feeder intended for the garden birds and the suet and insect pellets on the ground. Very cheeky.

  14. Trish said,

    on November 10th, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Hi, They will surely be healthy, strong Dunnocks with pellet feed inside them! I can just imagine these fast, small little birds out manouvering the hens! thanks for telling us about this

  15. Trish said,

    on November 10th, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Hi, They will surely be healthy, strong Dunnocks with pellet feed inside them! I can just imagine these fast, small little birds out manouvering the hens! thanks for telling us about this
    It’s the sort of thing I do – bypass the healthy option food for a big bar of chocolate!

  16. Sue said,

    on June 2nd, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Dunnock lovers! I’ve had two Dunnock’s nesting since the 11th May in a holly bush about eight foot from the house. The are totally unphased about us sitting near them.

    I am confused though. She was really busy feeding over the past fortnight but we never heard any chicks. Then today (2nd June) she has stopped going into the nest and is now flitting about singing and appearing to be trying to attract another mate. There are no fledglings evident and no obvious predators! Does anyone know what may have happened. It is a quiet, urban garden with minimal cats!

  17. Lisa said,

    on June 21st, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Today I found a baby Dunnock in my garden we took it an animal hospital because we thought it fell out a tree or something (we didn’t know it was a Dunnock until we got to the animal hospital, apparently when they open their mouths you can see a dot on each side of the mouth so that’s how you can tell between a sparrow and a dunnock!

  18. Trish said,

    on July 5th, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Very interesting and very kind of you to take the time for this small bird

    When you say you took it to an animal hospital do you mean you took it to a vet?

    thanks for getting in touch

  19. Pat said,

    on July 15th, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Hi we have had some dunnocks nesting in our conifers there are unfortunately we woke up to a chick dead on our neighbours patio I wondered if a cat could have climbed the conifer or maybe there is a cuckoo that has thrown it out of the nest and the cat had got it?

  20. Pat said,

    on July 15th, 2013 at 7:39 am

    What can we do to help the rest of the fledglings? We do normally manage to keep cats away

  21. Barbara said,

    on July 21st, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Hi, I think I have identified the baby bird I am worried about, as a dunnock. It has been chirping in my garden for a few days, but today I actually saw it. It has an extremely short tail and mum is around all the time and appears to be feeding it. It chirrups constantly and I just don’t know whether to try and capture it to keep it safe or leave nature alone. Is there a nest near the ground or has it fallen out of a nest higher up? I just don’t know what to do. I have seen it trying to fly with it’s little wings when it got lost because it was wary of me. Please advise me.

  22. Lois said,

    on March 14th, 2014 at 11:30 am

    We have a pair of dunnocks who are visiting our garden regularly at the moment. Over the past couple of days, they have been accompanied by a similar bird, but of a paler overall colour (not white, so not an albino). Can there be a lighter version? I didn’t think so. I have tried to get a photo, but it is too quick. If not a dunnock, what might it be?

  23. louise said,

    on March 25th, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    had a baby dunnock brought to me by my cat the bird is safe and alive just shocked but have put it in my dog kennel been to look at it and its trying to fly but shall keep it till morning then if its ok shall let it go, i have put some chick feed in for the night to hopefully get its strenght back , it will make me feel good to let it go .

  24. Trish said,

    on March 26th, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Here’s hoping it survives and what a good idea to give it some food. As I’m writing this on the 26th you will by now have found out if it survived or not. I hope you had a good outcome. But cats and birds don’t go together do they. The cat usually wins. We’ve tried to look after wounded wild birds and have been humbled by how frail they are and how little they weigh and how soft their feathers are. When they are flying wild they have a bounce and strength and energy that seems to make them look stronger than they are. Here’s hoping the little fella survived

  25. Delcia Anne said,

    on May 13th, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Horrified!!have had to cut privit hedge as it is swamping all my plants, but to my horror nearly chopped a dunocks nest in half.havestuch some cuttings back in to hedge and keeping my fingers crossed that all will be well. Passed by nest latter and she flew off nest. Never had one nest in this hedge before so never gave it a thought. Will be cutting it a lot early next year

  26. Janette White said,

    on May 20th, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Hi, our cat brought in what I think is a baby dunnock. It has survived and I’ve put in on a high hedge away from the cats. I can’t see mum around and I’m worried it dies of hunger. What can I feed it to help build up its strength. It appears to be fully fledged so should be able to fly.

  27. Janette White said,

    on May 20th, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Hi, our cat brought in what I think is a baby dunnock. It has survived and I’ve put in on a high hedge away from the cats. I can’t see mum around and I’m worried it dies of hunger. What can I feed it to help build up its strength. It appears to be fully fledged so should be able to fly.

  28. Steve said,

    on July 24th, 2014 at 6:30 am

    I noticed one morning A Dunnnock going into a conifer with feed in it’s mouth, you could then hear the chicks when the adult went in. However I have not noticed the adult for around two days. I’m a little concerned for the chicks if something has happened to the adult, but at the same time, don’t want to disturb the nest by checking to see if they are ok.

  29. Trish said,

    on July 28th, 2014 at 12:58 am

    You’re between the devil and he dark blue sea! Whatever you do could be the wrong thing. Anything could have happened to the dunnock. Cats or sparrowhawks could have killed it. Or the chicks could have died. We can’t do anything. It’s nature in the raw.
    It’s hard when we see this sort of thing ‘close up’ so to speak. I suppose all we can do is give them a helping hand by feeding them, having bird friendly gardens . feeding them in winter is important. In
    small birds, overwinter death rate can be very high
    if conditions are bad, either because
    of starvation or because a dunnock takes more
    risks to get at food and so is
    open to predation by cats or Sparrowhawks.
    There may be competition for food .During winter especially, put food out for them.
    small seeds, grated cheese and bread
    crumbs under the shelter of bushes and other
    garden plants. The fine bill deals with
    smaller items of food .
    I seem to spent a lot of time trying to find a way to keep bird food dry in winter and trying to find a way that means the garden birds can shelter while eating. it’s all worth it though.
    sorry I haven’t been able to help but it’s really good that you are concerned. The reason I mentioned about feeding birds is because it helps give them a good, healthy start in the spring – and therefore helps the next generation of birds

  30. Karen Florent said,

    on February 2nd, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    I have two dunnocks that visit regularly although I usually only see them one at a time. They seem to be great mates with the blackbirds, arriving together, feeding together and leaving together! Has anyone else noticed this?

  31. Pat Phillips said,

    on February 28th, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    We have had a camera-bird box for 4 years. So far, year 1′ nothing; year 2 bluetits laid 7 eggs but she disappeared and we took them out to see if the male would mate again. Didn’t happen. During the Winter he(?) used the box as a roost. Come Spring we actually watched bumblebees oust the bluetits and use the box throughout the Summer. Last year, bluetits again seemed to be going to lay but disappeared again. This Winter the box is being used as a roost by what I am pretty sure has got to be a Dunnock. He comes in when it’s almost dark, makes himself into a furry ball and gets up again as soon as it gets light. Chances of him finding a mate willing to nest in there?? Will keep you posted!

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