Delightful Dandies – Dunnocks!!

Hey everyone! I’ve been really busy over the last few weeks and have been getting up to lots of wildlife themed adventures along the way. I was thrilled to attend the AGM of the Fermanagh Red Squirrel Group and was so chuffed that they gave me, on loan, a trail camera! I’ve been testing it out in my garden and now I’m ready to set it up on my special red squirrel site – more to come on that, I hope. I also entered  a video on bats for the RSPB Cairngorms Nature Competition, I wasn’t successful this time, but I really enjoyed making it and feel that there are lots of ways I can improve. It was a difficult decision to do the video as I’m completely terrified of such things! Having Asperger’s, facial expressions and eye contact are a big deal, I think these were two of the reasons I wasn’t chosen. I’ll keep trying! You can view the video here. I’ve also contributed an article for the A Focus On Nature’s Advent series, which will be coming soon. It was written on the theme of ‘The Gift Of Inspiration’, you’ll have to see who I’ve chosen! I’m also waiting on approval for my wildlife garden proposals at school, fingers crossed!

The weather has been absolutely beautiful here and as we start to put out home-made high energy food for our garden birds, I’ve been out with my camera to snap any visitors. We’ve had lots but for this blog, I really want to focus on the beautiful Dunnock (Prunella modularis) also known as the hedge sparrow,hedge accentor and hedge warbler –  they are part of the Accentor family though. Dunnocks are really under-rated birds, often described as dull, brown or indistinguishable, seriously, I absolutely do not agree! If you are lucky to hear the beautiful song duet between birds, as I have been over the last few days; the song will lift your heart up and the freezing cold air will be completely forgotten, your numb fingers will warm and any discard you once felt, will melt away. I think its colours are beautiful, the grey on their breast and around their eyes are stunning and their bill, so finely sharp is perfect for eating insects in the winter.


We have about six individual dunnocks in our garden and we have seen them separately, hopping under the trees among the brambles and ivy. They are flighty  movers, hopping nervously up and down the undergrowth highway. Leaving your garden a little overgrown under trees is really important for ground feeding birds like the Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird and Thrush, they are all quite shy and like the protection the undergrowth gives.


They are an Amber status bird (recent decline), this is perhaps due to destruction of hedgerows and manicured gardens – again, the importance of undergrowth in gardens is very important. We had nests in our garden this year and it’s lovely, as they tend to nest in groups of three-six. The song emanating during the summer air was glorious. We had lots of nesting birds this year, including a Bullfinch! Always check your hedges and large shrubs before you cut them, a little visitor may have decided to inhabit them! Dunnock lay around 4 eggs and are blue in colour. Cuckoos are notorious for hijacking the Dunnock nest; I’ve seen incredible footage of a tiny wee Dunnock feeding an almost fully grown Cuckoo, the poor female looked so bedraggled! Cuckoos have evolved eggs which are identical to their host, how sneakily cunning!  However, it doesn’t even need to do this with the Dunnock, who can’t yet discriminate between the eggs. The poor thing, even though it may learn, the cuckoo is one step ahead!

It was just lovely to escape to the garden and watch these normally shy and secretive birds, hop around me with no fear at all. All the birds absolutely loved the mix my mum made, which consisted of suet, oats, chopped apricots and smashed up sunflower seeds – yep our birds are completely spoiled, and so they should be! The winter is really difficult for birds, with a reduction in berries, haws and grain (farming), our little feathery friends need all the help they can get to survive!


I really love watching the birds in my garden and I’ll hopefully do a little blog with photos on each species and experience I have. I found a really beautiful poem, which perfectly describes how I feel about birds.

Image result for hope is a thing with feathers

Thank you very much for reading.


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14 Responses

  1. THANKS for another GREAT article Dara!!! I was very interested to learn about the Dunnock!! I have only been to Ireland once (last year) and I don’t remember seeing one of these – they are a pretty little bird (even if they are not b rightly coloured) and thanks for educating me about this feathered treasure of Ireland!

    Winter weather has arrived here where I am in Canada. We already have a bit of snow on the ground. I put up my bird feeder a few weeks ago and am getting lots of activity (black-capped chickadee, house finches, Northern Cardinals, sparrows, Juncos). The squirrels and rabbits like to hang out underneath the feeder and get the seed that the birds kick out. Everyone seems happy to have the free food!!!

    Good luck with your trail camera – it will be very interesting to see what you capture.

    Best Regards from Canada (and keep up the GREAT and very important work you are doing for nature!).

      1. Thanks Dara – keep up the great work and I look forward to reading your future blogs. Best Regards, again…..Ian in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  2. What an informative and interesting article Dara! I didn’t know about Dunnocks and you’re right, they are beautiful. Lovely photographs. We have cuckoos that arrive each spring, so I’ll have to look out for our little hedge warblers.

    Your passion is evident and inspiring, and I love how you communicate that with us all.

  3. Dara, another well-written piece. It’s always a pleasure to read – honest, poetical and passionate! Keep up the good work and look forward to hearing how the trail camera goes.

    Saw the annual influx of whopper swans today in a field on the main Derrylin Road… shall have to stop and take some photos soon especially in this wonderful winter light. The county is a great host to many species 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Thank you so much for this, the video and the Emily Dickinson poem. On a cold and cheerless night, hope – the thing with feathers – was exactly what I needed. The quiet work you are doing is making our world – both the earth and the community – a happier and a healthier place.

  5. Thanks Dara for another informative and interesting blog. You have renewed my interest in Dunnocks. I appreciated your poem and enjoyed this very much. Great work. Keep it up

  6. This is a beautiful post, I read it as it was shared by a friend on Facebook and so glad I did. It is particularly nice you can connect with local groups in relation to your interests, not everyone has that opportunity so take advantage of it. When I was young, way back in the 1980s, I kept a nature diary which was the old-fashioned version of a blog, writing about the flora and fauna I saw and including little sketches sometimes. I still treasure it and I’m sure you and many readers will treasure these insights into the natural world for years to come. Lovely poem too! Did you read Edward Thomas’ poem The Owl? It’s also great.

  7. Hi Dara, your blog is interesting and well written as always. Dunnocks are also my fragile fierce feathered friends. I always stop and listen when I come across a colony in a hedge chatting lively.

    Judging by the beautiful poem from Emily Dickinson you’re not only an explorer by mind but also the ‘bearer’ of a romantice heart. Always keep in mind this is a very precious combination!
    Best regards, Marjolijn, the Netherlands x

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