Dunnock Nesting: A Complete Guide

Dunnock Nesting: A Complete Guide

The dunnock (Prunella modularis) is a small, quiet and unobtrusive bird that you'll see creeping through flower beds and sitting on your fence looking for food. These birds are often seen alone and only really meet up with other dunnocks during nesting season. Which is great news for us as we're looking at the nesting habits of dunnocks below. So, gather your dunnocks and let's find out everything about how this bird nests, shall we?

Dunnock's nest low to the ground. While they do spend some time in trees, they like to be close to the ground, so they are close to food. So, they build their nests close to the floor as well. Dunnocks will usually make their nests in hedgerows, low down in woodlands, and sometimes in your back garden if you have hedges and shrubs, for example.

Dunnocks are very common in the UK, and because they can freely nest low to the ground, many of us will get to enjoy dunnocks in our gardens. And, as we'll see, dunnocks have some interesting nesting habits to watch out for too.

Dunnocks build their nests with moss and twigs and line them with soft moss and hair. Like many bird species, it is the female dunnocks job to create the nest. She will choose a nesting ground in dense hedges or shrubs and has no issue if this is in our gardens or natural woodland.

Key Dunnock Nesting Facts
Nesting seasonMarch to July
Nesting materialTwigs, stems, roots, grass and moss
Nest typeCup-shaped
Nest locationHedges, shrubs and trees
Number of broodsTwo, occasionally three
Clutch size3 - 6 eggs
Egg colourGlossy bright blue
Egg size19 x 14 mm
Egg weight2.1 g
Incubation period12 - 13 days, by the female
Fledgling period11 - 13 days after hatching
Reuse nestsNo, but will reuse same territory
Use nest boxesUsually, no, but will occasionally use fronted nest boxes
Dunnock nest with two blue eggs inside

Dunnock nest with two blue eggs inside

Where do dunnocks nest?

Dunnocks will nest in woodland, hedgerows or even hedges and shrubs in gardens. They like to nest low to the floor but will choose a dense area to make their nest, so they are protected from view.

One of the reasons dunnocks are so beloved in this country is because they often nest in gardens giving us a glimpse into their nesting habits.

Dunnocks in the UK don't travel too far. So, the ones in our garden were likely born a few miles away. So the babies in the nest in your hedge will likely stay close to your garden for the whole of their life. Dunnocks in colder parts of Europe do travel long distances, though.

Dunnocks were successfully introduced into New Zealand during the 19th century and have since built strong numbers throughout the country and offshore islands.

So, if you see more dunnocks in your garden than usual over the winter, your local dunnocks may have European friends over for a month's holiday.

A pair of dunnocks on the ground, feeding on seeds

A pair of dunnocks on the ground, feeding on seeds

When do dunnocks nest?

Dunnocks start to build their nests in March and will nest until July. This gives the birds time to have up to three broods in a year. A typical clutch for a dunnock is anywhere from 3-6 eggs, with 4 to 5 being the most common.

So, during March and July, the dunnocks you see in your garden all the time may have up to 15 tiny beaks to feed!

If the birds are beginning to look a bit tired, you know why!

How long do dunnocks nest for?

Dunnocks nest between March and July, so 3-4 months depending on how long it takes to make their nest at the start of March. This may sound like a long time for birds to nest, but that is because they are very busy getting busy during this period.

They can have three broods during this time with 4-5 eggs each time. So, dunnocks stay very active while they nest. You'll commonly see dunnocks during this period collecting food for their babies with a very tired look in their eyes!

Dunnock singing from the top of a bush

Dunnock singing from the top of a bush

How do dunnocks build their nests?

Dunnocks construct their nests out of twigs and moss. They weave the twigs together to create a strong cup-like structure that is big enough to hold about 5 eggs. They then line the cup with moss and hair to keep the eggs safe.

They will use this nest throughout the entire nesting period of March-July and possibly return to it the next year if it is still intact. As dunnocks nest low to the ground in hedges and things like that, their nests don't often last for another nesting season. But the females are very good at building another one.

Dunnock gathering nesting materials

Dunnock gathering nesting materials

When do baby dunnocks leave the nest?

The typical fledgling time for Dunnock chicks is around 12 days.

Dunnocks begin breeding in March and will usually stop in July. The incubation process takes about 12-13 days, and then 12 days after that, the chicks will begin to fledge the nest. This gives the adult dunnocks plenty of time to have up to three broods a year.

Once the baby dunnocks leave the nest, other adult dunnocks will help them find food and even bring them food while they are growing up. Their parents will feed them as well, but dunnocks have a sense of community when it comes to feeding their young. It's like your friend's mum bringing you a sandwich while you're out playing!

Recently fledged juvenile dunnock

Recently fledged juvenile dunnock

How many broods do dunnocks have?

Dunnocks can have up to three broods a year. With an average life span of just two years, the average dunnock will have about six broods in its lifetime.

They usually lay between 4-5 eggs in each brood. So, a dunnock can be mum or dad to about 30 baby dunnocks in an average lifespan.

Sadly, because dunnocks spend a lot of time in our gardens, they are preyed upon by cats a lot. Sparrowhawks also take dunnocks, as they are ground feeders; they are pretty easy for sparrowhawks to catch.

Close up of a dunnock

Close up of a dunnock

Do dunnocks nest in the same place every year?

Dunnocks don't really travel much anyway; they may only travel a few miles from where they were born. So, yes, dunnocks do nest in the same place every year. They may not nest in the same nest or even garden, but they will nest close by.

Most years, they have to construct a brand new nest, anyway, so they can choose an area they find safe each year.

What do dunnock eggs look like?

Dunnock eggs are smooth and glossy and a beautiful bright blue colour. They look much like a starling egg but are a lot smaller at about 20mm. The colour of dunnock eggs makes them quite easy to spot, which is why these birds like to nest in dense hedgerows and shrubs.

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