There’s an old saying that you never stop learning and that’s never more true than when you start looking at the natural world . The other day, at RSPB Titchwell, we saw a Dunnock busily collecting insects for its’ chicks. It’s a bird we often see in the garden and is known for its’ secretive behavior. Often it’s seen lurking underneath the hedge, looking quite boring. Surprisingly, it’s on the Amber List of birds, due to a decline in numbers during the 1980’s. I am pleased to say that its’ numbers are now recovering.
Although, it doesn’t attract much attention for its’ looks, it’s a bird with a riotous sex life. I knew nothing about this until I did some research for an image I was posting on Facebook. The idea that these little unobtrusive brown birds have ordinary lives is definitely not true.
The Dunnocks Riotous Sex Life
Both the male and females are territorial and their prime aim in life is to make sure their genes are passed on. To enable them to do this they have adapted a number of different breeding strategies which are quite rare among birds. Much of their choice of strategy seems to depend on the size of their territory and the ratio of male and females.
Some do practice monogamy this is usually when only one female and one male’s territory overlap. However, most of the time dunnocks are either polyandrous, with females mating with two males, with the aim of getting both males to help in the feeding of the chicks. Or polygynous, with the males mating with more than one female.
These different strategies often lead to the male, prior to mating, pecking the female’s rear end to encourage her to eject a rival’s sperm.
Other dunnocks adopt polygynandry, which could mean, females mating with 2-3 males, and males mating with 2-3 females. A strategy which could result in a female laying a nest of eggs sired by a number of different males, in the hope that all the males will help to feed the chicks.
Amazingly, it’s all going on in our garden hedges by these seemingly plain little brown birds.