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Hedge Accentor

Both sexes: Streaky grey-brown plumage.

At first glance the Dunnock, also known as Hedge Sparrow or Hedge Accentor, looks like a dull sleek sparrow.

On closer inspection it is quite attractive with its blue-grey head and breast, light and dark brown streaky back, brown streaked flanks and pink legs. The black bill is finer than that of a sparrow, because it feeds mainly on insects and not seed.


The sexes are very alike, though the female is a little drabber.

Juveniles lack the grey on head and chest, instead they have brown streaks.


The Dunnock seems nervous and agitated, constantly flicking its tail and wings.

They are the only Accentor to live in lowland areas, all others live in upland and mountainous regions.

Scientific Name Prunella modularis
Length 14.5 cm  (6")
Wing Span 19-21 cm  (7-8")
Weight 16-25 g  (½-1 oz)
Breeding Pairs 2000000
Present All Year
Status Amber

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The Dunnock's song is a pleasant surprise also; an unhurried sweet warble which can be confused with the Wren or Robin, but lacks the Wren's intensity and the Robin's sweetness.

The main call is shrill, persistent "tseep", which often betrays its otherwise inconspicuous presence.


© Jean Roché,

© Jean Roché,


The Dunnock is predominantly a ground feeder and feeds on insects, such as beetles and ants, and spiders, which it gleans from leaf litter, among plant roots, etc. In the autumn and winter they will eat seeds and berries. Occasionally, especially in the winter months, Dunnocks have taken small seeds, such as peanut granules, and suet off or around the ground feeder table.

The Robin and Dunnock have similar diets. Consequently, in the winter when food is in short supply and Robins are defending their feeding territories, the Robin often chases the Dunnock away.


The nest is built by the female in dense shrubs and hedges. The cup-shaped nest is lined with moss and hair, and built from twigs and moss.

Dunnock nests are often parasitized by Cuckoos.

The female lays and incubates bright blue, smooth and glossy eggs that are about 19 mm by 14 mm. Both adults feed the newly-hatched young, but are often assisted by other male birds.

The Dunnock's sex life is remarkable; few are monogamous and most are either polyandrous (females have more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate).

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April 2-3 4-6 12-13 11-12


British populations are mainly sedentary with only short dispersive movements by juveniles, but continental birds are migratory to varying degrees; some Scandinavian birds over-winter in eastern Britain.


The Dunnock is on the Amber List of birds of medium conservation concern because after a serious decline in numbers during the 1980's, indications are that the population is recovering, but may be struggling in its "natural habitat" owing to changes in woodland management practices.