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Winter birds : House Sparrow and Dunnock

This is the first in a series of posts getting to grips with some our most common garden birds. With wildlife identification I'm a firm believer in keeping it manageable so you dont feel over whelmed. Taking the time to stop and watch the wildlife in your garden can be the best way to get to grips with identification whilst also be calming and bringing a little nature into your everyday. You may be surprised at the variety of birds you see. I really want to instil in you that you don't have to be an expert. You can still share this with your child even if you don't have the answers. For me seeing differences is far more important than knowing what it is. If you can see differences you are most of the way there. Why not make up your own names? They'll probably be easier to remember and much more fun!

Over the next few weeks I'd love to build your confidence to take part in the RSPB's Garden Birdwatch from 26th-28th January. Sign up here.

House Sparrow

House Sparrows are social birds and live in communities feeding and nesting together. If you have ever heard a garden hedge or shrub alive with chatter it was likely to be House Sparrows. The markings of females are not as distinct as the males who have brighter black, brown and white markings with a distinctive grey cap. They feed mainly on seeds but are opportunists and will seek out scraps associated with humans. Pairs are often faithful to each other and favour the same nest site year on year. Most birds lay 2 or 3 clutches of eggs from April to August often laying the next clutch of eggs just days after the first brood leave the nest.

The House Sparrow was once far more common than they are today. They have sadly seen a 70% decline since the 1970's. This has put House Sparrows on the red list of conservation concern and a biodiversity action plan species. The decline is thought to be due to chicks dying of starvation from lack of insects. We can help by having gardens rich in nectar sources that aren't too well kempt. Including areas with long grass, log piles and not using any chemicals. Supplementing their food by putting out meal worms could help when House Sparrows have chicks in the nest from April to August.

Dunnock

Dunnocks, also known as Hedge Sparrows despite not being a sparrow, are often confused with House Sparrows. Its no surprise as like House Sparrows they also have brown and black markings on their wings and backs. Look closer and you will see they are drabber than House Sparrows and can be distinguished by their grey head and chest but are also quite different in character. They are often tricky to see, skulking at the back of a boarder or flitting in and out of a shrub. If you watch them you will notice they have a twitchy shuffling habit and are nervous being easily scared by the slightest movement or noise. That is until 2 males meet and they become very animated with their territorial calling and wing flicking behaviour. Dunnocks tend to be solitary and both males and females look very similar. Dunnocks are ground feeding looking for worms, insects and seeds. Dunnocks have an surprisingly varied sex life with monogamous pairs not being the norm. Females will often mate with more than one male resulting in both males helping to rear chicks as they both believe they are the fathers. It doesn't end there. Its not uncommon for male Dunnocks to be paired with more than one female and presumably looking after several broods or 'pairs' consisting of two males and two females. Reproduction isn't so straight forward in the Dunnock world. Who would have thought all that was going on in your garden!