What Do Dunnocks Eat?

Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) may be small, but they are one of the most widespread members of the accentor family in the world. The dunnocks in your garden may have friends as far away as New Zealand, although they will mainly communicate via email. As dunnocks are all over the world, we thought looking at their diets may be interesting. What do dunnocks eat, and how do you attract these wonderful birds into your garden?

Dunnocks eat almost exclusively insects and invertebrates throughout most of the year. As they are so widespread, the insects they eat change from country to country and even from region to region depending on which insects they have access to.

The diet of a dunnock may sound pretty simple, but these birds need to survive. So, while their diet is largely insect-based, they do what they need to live, as we'll see throughout this article.

Throughout spring, summer and autumn, dunnocks will eat almost any insect or invertebrate that they can get their beaks on. However, during the winter, the dunnocks' diet changes. As there are fewer insects around during the colder months, dunnocks will rely more heavily on seeds in order to survive.

Dunnock searching for insects on the ground

Dunnock searching for insects on the ground

How do dunnocks find food?

Dunnocks are a ground-feeding bird and will find ants, beetles and spiders as well as other insects on the floor. You can often see them hopping along the ground in search of food, and they are quite active in our gardens because the short grass allows them to pick out insects easily.

In the more wild parts of the UK, dunnocks can be found in farmer's fields, under hedges, and occasionally in woodlands, searching the ground and undergrowth for insects.

What time of day do dunnocks feed?

Dunnocks feed throughout the day and even at night. A lot of the creepy crawlies that dunnocks feed on come out at night, so they need to as well.

Dunnocks are not early raisers for most of the year. They don't join in on the dawn chorus with other birds. This is because dunnocks have been up most of the night eating their body weight in insects.

However, during the breeding season, dunnocks break this cycle and are much more active during the early part of the day. This is to find a mate, of course, and after a quick sing in the morning, the dunnocks will be back to their regularly scheduled insect hunt.

Dunnock foraging for food

Dunnock foraging for food

What do dunnocks eat in the winter?

Winter is a brilliant time to attract dunnocks into your garden because during the colder months, these birds begin to rely on seeds more.

For most of the year, dunnocks eat insects, but because insects are not as active in the winter, they must eat seeds to survive. Don't expect dunnocks to join other birds at your feeder, though.

Dunnocks are ground-feeding birds, and so they are more likely to feed on seeds on the ground. So, scatter some seeds on the floor during the winter if you want to attract dunnocks into your garden. They will also take insects in the winter, so mealworms are a great choice too.

A hungry dunnock eating seeds from a bird feeder during the winter

A hungry dunnock eating seeds from a bird feeder during the winter

What do dunnocks eat in the summer?

During the summer, dunnocks are all about insects, with pretty much 100% of their diet during the warmer months being insects or invertebrates. They will ants, spiders, beetles, woodlice and anything they can get their beaks on.

Dunnocks are ground feeders, so you'll often see them under hedges and in flower beds, hunting for any insects they can find. Dunnocks do feed at night but will eat during the afternoon and evening as well.

You may also notice dunnocks keeping a watchful eye on you as you mow the grass. Once you're finished, they will swoop in and nab any insects they can see.

A pair of dunnocks eating seeds amongst the grass

A pair of dunnocks eating seeds amongst the grass

What do baby dunnocks eat?

Baby dunnocks only have about 14 days to fledge after they are born, so they need to build up their strength quickly. This means adult dunnocks feed their young an insect diet. They will consume loads of insects a day and build up their strength very quickly.

Dunnocks' nest between April and July to have up to three broods a year. This is the perfect time for insect-eating birds as they are millions to be caught and taken back to the nest.

What should I feed dunnocks?

Dunnocks rely heavily on insects in the wild, so mealworms and any other insects you can get your hands on are a good place to start.

Dunnocks do rely on seeds in the winter when insects are not as active. However, dunnocks are ground feeders. So, you can scatter seeds and insects on the floor for dunnocks throughout the year.

Close up of a perched dunnock

Close up of a perched dunnock

What seeds do dunnocks eat?

Dunnocks eat all types of seeds. They will happily eat an entire sunflower heart. However, a mix of small seeds (like a finch mix, for example) is ideal. They are ground feeders, though. So, they will either take seeds that have fallen to the floor, or you can scatter seeds underneath your feeding station for them.

What do dunnocks drink?

Dunnocks don't need to drink a lot of water to survive, but you can occasionally see them wet their beak in a puddle or birdbath.

Dunnocks are ground feeding birds

Dunnocks are ground feeding birds

How do I attract dunnocks to my garden?

The best way to attract dunnocks into your garden is to keep your grass a good length for insects. You can also scatter seeds and insects on the floor during the winter months. Dunnocks are ground-feeding birds and rely on insects for most of their diet. So, make your garden inviting to the insects, and the dunnocks will come.

Do dunnocks use bird feeders?

Dunnocks prefer to feed on the ground. So, they often won't feed at bird feeders but may roam around on the ground nearby and pick up seeds that other birds have dropped.

They primarily eat insects, though. However, during the winter, dunnocks will eat what they have to to survive, so you may notice a few dunnocks at your bird feeders during this time.

A dunnock eating mealworms from a bird table

A dunnock eating mealworms from a bird table

Dunnock Diet FAQs

Do dunnocks eat mealworms?

Yes, dunnocks will eat mealworms from feeding stations, although they feel more comfortable feeding on the ground, so scattering some mealworms on the floor is the best way to attract them.

Do dunnocks eat ants?

Dunnocks do eat ants, and they make up a large part of their diet, along with spiders and beetles.

Do dunnocks eat niger seed?

Dunnocks will occasionally eat seeds from a feeder, and niger seeds are one of their favourites. They tend to enjoy smaller seeds, so finch seed mixes (which contain a lot of niger seeds) are a good option for dunnocks.

Do dunnocks eat sunflower seeds?

Dunnocks are curious little birds; they enjoy smaller seeds but have been known to consume whole sunflower hearts in their time. So, while they don't often go for sunflower seeds, when they do, it can be very impressive.

Are dunnocks ground feeders?

Yes, dunnocks spend most of their time eating on the ground. Occasionally they will feed from bird feeders and maybe catch a few insects in trees or hedges. However, most of their feeding is done on the floor.

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