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A common small brown bird often overlooked or incorrectly identified as a house sparrow

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

If you are like me you eagerly await spring; the new season of bird song, summer migrants, wild flowers, busy insects and so, as soon as the shortest day is past, I start looking for signs of spring! A bit early perhaps? No, if you start looking early you see just small but significant changes.

In early February there is a small but delightful change. The dunnock (Prunella modularis) starts to utter the first few tentative notes of his song. As the days progress through the month he grows in confidence and soon the dunnock will join with the robins and song thrush heralding in the spring.

When I was young I remember my father calling this a hedge sparrow but, as it is not a sparrow, the name changed back in the 1970's to dunnock. It is a member of the accentor family and so, on the formal British nomenclature list it is known as the hedge accentor. Three names for the same little bird.

As a garden bird it ranks number 12. In the RSPB Garden Bird Watch it is reported from 54% of gardens but in the BTO garden recording scheme it is seen in 81% of gardens, a major difference. I put this down to under recording in the RSPB event as many observers will just put this down as a sparrow and not realise exactly what it is.

To some this is a rather plain, drab little brown job! It is a bird that skulks around the bottom of hedges and the shrubbery minding its own business but it is also a little brown bird with lovely varying shades of brown in its plumage and it has a delightful song that is a very welcome addition to our garden and the countryside in general.


Common Name Dunnock
Alternative Name(s) Hedge sparrow, Hedge accentor
Scientific Name Prunella modularis
Species Group Other Small Land Birds
Status Frequent
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A skulking bird feeding on the ground under shrubs 

Identification Notes
  • Often dismissed as a sparrow but more solitary and less active than house sparrows
  • In gardens they will often be seen feeding under shrubs rather than in the open
  • In spring they will sit on a prominent perch a utter their delightful song for long periods
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Other Small Land Birds