Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Thirty-four

20 April 2020
Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Thirty-four
Dunnock / Photo Roger Wilmshurst

As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.

Day Thirty-four

What I’m enjoying most about the weekend Bird Race is the chance to stop and just sit in silence and observe what’s going on in my garden. I’ve been struck by how many Dunnocks I see in the garden. Dunnocks are unobtrusive brown and grey birds and spend a lot of time skulking around on the ground in the shadows. They sort of look like sparrows, in fact they're sometimes called 'Hedge Sparrows', but they’re not related and come from an entirely different family (the Accentors). 

Roger Wilmshurst

(Photo Roger Wilmshurst)

They are very vocal at this time of year and are quite unusual as both the female and the male Dunnocks sing. It’s squeaky warble, only about four seconds long, which never really varies – so if you learn their song you’re sure to recognise it when you’re next out in the garden. Play their song here.

They may look dull and have a mundane song but their sex lives are far from conventional. I was watching a Dunnock hopping around under the hedge during yesterday's Bird Race when two female House Sparrows appeared on the fence noisily chattering to each other.

And for a moment I wondered what they were saying… 

“Anyway, I’m not one to gossip, but I flew down to the bird table at number 12 yesterday and I bumped into that House Sparrow. You know how she loves to chatter. Well, we got talking over the fence. That Dunnock that lives in the hedge at number 10? Well she’s certainly nothing to look at. But that’s Dunnocks for you, all greys and browns. Not exactly the most striking bird in the garden. Keeps herself to herself. You know what they say about the quiet ones?”

“These Dunnocks aren’t like the rest of us. All sexual equality they are. So back in February it was her, not him, who was first out there in the garden establishing a territory. Then she started seeing this fella who had a territory next door. It was all innocent enough but that’s when it all kicked off. This other Dunnock from a few doors down showed up and he started strutting and serenading her like he was bleedin’ Casanova. Well, her fella was having none of it – there was fighting and feathers everywhere and he soon saw him off. But Casanova didn’t give up – he sat in the hedge warbling and wooing her. Well, when her fella’s back was turned she was over there like a flash, twirling her tail at him. In no time they were ‘avin’ a bit of ‘ows yer father right under the hedge. Then she flew straight back to her other fella, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her beak and then they went at it. It was then that the third fella showed up and she snuck off with him too for some rumpy-pumpy behind the pampas grass in the front garden of number 5”.

Dave Kilbey

(Photo Dave Kilbey)

“Well it was like this for the next week apparently. She was at it 100 times a day! Gets my feathers ruffled just thinking about it. Anyway, she’s been proudly sat in her nest for a fortnight incubating four sky blue eggs and this week they hatched into chicks. But the thing is all three of her fellas think that they are the father - so she had them all scrabbling ‘round searching for bugs. When it comes to child support, her four babies must be the most well-fed chicks in the street. I reckon that was her game all along.”

“But that wasn’t the end of it. It turns out that her first fella was sneaking off and bringing bugs to another Dunnock in the next garden who he thinks also has his chicks. And the other two believe they’re the fathers of another Dunnock’s chicks two gardens over. Maybe they are. Who knows! I can’t keep track of it! There isn’t even a word for what these Dunnocks get up to. Well, there is. Polygynandry they call it. Scandalous I call it. Anyway, as I said, I’m not one to gossip, but If the people in this cul-de-sac only knew what goes on in their very own backyards…”

Dunnock Patrick Smith

(Photo Patrick Smith)


  • Florence:

    21 Apr 2020 13:47:00

    Love it! Especially the pampas grass!

  • Jenny:

    21 Apr 2020 16:56:00

    Ooooh, those Dunnocks. Michael – you are a proper tonic, my friend.

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