Sex lives of dunnocks shock news! Plus all the usual suspects
Date posted: Wednesday 8th March 2017
Let’s start with the less salacious news from the plot! Spring is on the way – a large queen bumble unsteadily tottering around in the shed guttering a few days ago, crocus, hellebores and daffs now sparkling under my little old apple tree and the honeybees abuzz in the purple crocuses, carrying pollen sacs on legs like nothing more than oversized Sainsbury’s shopping bags.. they fly in so fast, as though they’re desperate after the long over-wintering in their hives:
And the birds have started their dawn and dusk chorus, although where we live we hear mostly a small flock of resident house sparrow, not the most tuneful songsters but very welcome as they are so endangered now and we have around 8 – 12 in and among the ivy on our building walls – voracious, noisy and messy snackers at the seed feeders, unlike the quick efficiency of the tits and the neatness of the goldfinches… But the shock news is of another passerine, not related but often named the hedge sparrow – yes, the sordid goings-on of the dunnock merit tabloid headlines!!
‘The dunnock is the wallflower of garden birds; ever-present, but hardly ever noticed. Dunnocks usually forage on the ground, hopping about beneath bushes and shrubs, rather like tiny thrushes.. For most of the year the dunnock lives up to its reputation as a quiet, modest little bird. But for a month or two during early spring, it undergoes a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Gone is the sly skulker; welcome instead to the swinger of the bird world.’ (Stephen Moss; Wild Hares and Hummingbirds Vintage Books). The male’s song serves two purposes; to attract a mate and see off rivals, but once he’s got his female his troubles begin, as Moss says: ‘..whereas most birds, once paired up, can afford to relax a little, the dunnock must keep a close eye on his mate until all the eggs have been laid. This is because female dunnocks are, to put it bluntly, fond of a bit on the side.’ Basically they will mate with any male in the neighbourhood so that any one brood of chicks may come from several different fathers. And the male, to hedge his bets, will mate with as many females as he can find during this crucial period. So there you have it, wild rampant behaviour going on under those bushes and shrubs, from these modest little passerines, not! As Steven Moss says: ‘For our Victorian ancestors, such shenanigans would have seemed utterly bizarre. Not only didd they believe that most birds were faithful to their partners, they even held up the dunnock as the epitome of modesty… the Reverend F.O. Morris..was especially assiduous in recommending that his parishioners should follow the dunnock’s example in their marital lives. If he knew what was going on in my garden, he would surely have changed his mind.’ Should have looked to the more monogamously inclined jackdaws!