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Hedge Sparrows: Prunellidae

Dunnock (prunella Modularis): Species Account

Physical characteristics: The dunnock is a relatively small bird that has an average length of 6 inches (15 centimeters), and weighs about 0.7 ounces (19 grams). Like other accentors, its beak is pointed and slender and its feet and legs are sturdy. The dunnock can have a blue-gray head and breast, and a light and dark brown back with streaks, brown-streaked flanks, and pink legs. The under parts of the dunnock tend to be uniformly gray with apricot markings.

Geographic range: The dunnock can be found throughout Europe, as far east as the western regions of Russia. In the northern regions, the dunnock is migratory. Those living in the southern parts of France and Spain tend to reside there on a continual basis. Between 1860 and 1880, the dunnock was introduced to New Zealand and remains there, as well.

Habitat: The dunnock resides in woods that have an ample amount of undergrowth, as well as in the hedges and shrubbery at the edges of forests. They also thrive in farm areas that have a lot of vegetation, and in the gardens of the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Diet: Dunnocks are omnivores, eating various invertebrates such as insects, spiders, and worms during warm months. In the winter they survive on seeds and berries, some of the various kind of seeds are in feeders meant for songbirds in gardens and backyards.

Behavior and reproduction: Dunnocks are known for their secretive behavior and tend to be shy in their habits. Most of the populations are migratory. During breeding season, they are seen either as individuals or in pairs. During the winter they tend to gather in large flocks in order to forage for food—with a good food source, a hundred or more might gather. The bird's voice is heard in a short but complex song that is composed of a succession of rapid and even notes and trills.

Breeding season for dunnocks runs approximately from the beginning of April to the end of July, generally raising two broods a year. The incubation period lasts from twelve to fourteen days, and the young are ready to fly about eleven to thirteen days after they are hatched. Both male and female parents care for the young. Dunnocks are sometimes polyandrous breeders, with a female mating with several males within the breeding territory. In that case, it is usual for all of the parties involved to raise the young.

Dunnocks and people: Dunnocks provide an economic benefit due to the numbers of people who engage in bird watching and the travel that sometimes accompanies it. The dunnock is also well known in the English countryside. In 2001, the ticks that live on dunnocks and other migratory birds were linked to the spread of a bacterial pathogen known as Ehrlichia phagocytophila, which causes the rare human disease of ehrlichiosis. This disease has been compared to Rocky Mountain spotted fever and emerges about twelve days following the bite of a tick. Though cases have occurred in the United States, the illness tends to be centered in the Far East and Southeast Asia, with most cases reported in western Japan.

Conservation status: The dunnock is not a threatened species, although its population in Britain did experience a decline by 45 to 60 percent between 1975 and 2001. Since 1986 the population remained steady. The cause was unknown. The decline was not experienced throughout the British Isles and Wales actually enjoyed a population increase. ∎



Alsop, Fred J. III. Birds of North America. Smithsonian Books. London and New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2001.

Campbell, Bruce, and Elizabeth Lack, eds. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion, SD: Buteo Books, 1985.

Elphick, Chris, John B. Dunning Jr., and David Allen Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 2001.

Fisher, James, and Roger Tory Peterson. The World of Birds. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964.

Web sites:

"Dunnock." Bird Diary. http://www.birddiary.co.uk (accessed on May 5, 2004).

"Dunnock." British Garden Birds. http://www.garden7ndash;birds.co.uk/dunnock.htm (accessed on May 5, 2004).

"Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside." Joint Nature Conservation Committee. http://www.bto.org/birdtrends/wcrdunno.htm (accessed on May 5, 2004).

"Dunnock." New Zealand Birds. http://www.nzbirds.com/Dunnock.html (accessed on May 5, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsHedge Sparrows: Prunellidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Dunnock (prunella Modularis): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, HEDGE SPARROWS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS