December: Time for an Annual Summary, and a Little About Little Brown Jobs – Dunnocks in Decline


One of the birds that visits my garden most often in OP is the Dunnock, it’s scientific, or latin name, is Prunella modularis. A ‘little brown job’ that most people probably think is a sparrow. I was particularly happy with this picture which I took in my garden a couple of years ago, the bird was looking for easy food in the frost, which I provide, and it shows Dunnocks are actually attractive little birds. To see the difference between Dunnocks and Sparrows, check the RSPB’s information here: Little brown birds can be tricky to tell apart – Dunnocks and Sparrows and you can also hear a recording of their song.

According to the BTO’s Dunnock Status Summary based on their Citizen Science Nest Record Scheme (NRS), which started in 1939, “abundance fell substantially between the mid 1970s and mid 1980s, after a period of population stability. Some recovery has occurred throughout the UK since the late 1990s, but the species is still amber listed. The cause of the decline remains unknown. In many lowland woods, canopy closure in the absence of forest management and increasing browsing pressure from deer are likely to have reduced the suitability of the habitat for this species (Fuller et al. 2005). There has been little variation in survival rates over time (Siriwardena et al. 1998a). Clutch and brood sizes, and the number of fledglings per breeding attempt all increased as the population fell. Nest failure rates are currently increasing, and are of NRS concern (Leech & Barimore 2008). Numbers have shown widespread moderate decrease across Europe since 1980 (PECBMS 2011a).”

We can help by feeding them and providing nesting materials: throw them a handful of seed on the ground, and brush your pets outside so their hair can be used for nesting, I also put my own hair from my brush outside for birds.


From British Garden Birds Website:


The Dunnock is predominantly a ground feeder and feeds on insects, such as beetles and ants, and spiders, which it gleans from leaf litter, among plant roots, etc. In the autumn and winter they will eat seeds and berries. Occasionally, especially in the winter months, Dunnocks have taken small seeds, such as peanut granules, and suet off or around the ground feeder table.

The Robin and Dunnock have similar diets. Consequently, in the winter when food is in short supply and Robins are defending their feeding territories, the Robin often chases the Dunnock away.


The nest is built by the female in dense shrubs and hedges. The cup-shaped nest is lined with moss and hair, and built from twigs and moss.

Dunnock nests are often parasitized by Cuckoos.

The female lays and incubates bright blue, smooth and glossy eggs that are about 19 mm by 14 mm. Both adults feed the newly-hatched young, but are often assisted by other male birds.

The Dunnock’s sex life is remarkable; few are monogamous and most are either polyandrous (females have more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate).


2015 Summary

OPWP has held a range of activities over the year, from our Wildlife Area TLC event in the 2015 new year, showing of Project Wild Thing film, planting trees from the Woodland Trust, planting seeds from Grow Wild, finding and learning about snails with Cambridge University Zoology Museum outreach team, through to the Summer Safari, and late summer activity finding a healthy breeding population of Common Lizards, to the talk at the Community Centre about why Hedgehogs are declining and how we can help them (this will soon be available on the blog as a video) by a former Senior Nurse at Shepreth Hedgehog Hospital, to our recent (and I have to say disheartening) clean up of the terrible litter at the Wildlife Area.

We’ve worked with lots of new people and organisations this year, and we hope to continue collaborations next year, it’s always exciting to make new connections.

OPWP Committee Members will be planning our draft schedule of (approximately monthly) events for 2016 early in the new year. We hope you’ll join us to implement our Orchard Park Habitats Management Plan written for us by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

Of course, our activities wouldn’t be possible without the support of those who generously donate their expertise, time, and equipment, we are most grateful for this support and to those who have supported us financially since OPWP began.

We hope you have a great holiday season, and look forward to seeing you at our events in 2016. Why not make a new year resolution to help the wildlife on your doorstep?




What is wrong with people?


I was saddened and disgusted to see this mess yesterday. What hope for our future if this is how children are treating the Orchard Park Wildlife Area? Is this really your attitude towards the environment, is it your children’s?

Listen to an excerpt of a talk by Mary Barrow, formerly a senior nurse at Shepreth Hedgehog Hospital, and now at Befriend a Hedgehog, advising about the problems litter causes to hedgehogs and other wildlife.

PLEASE educate your children to respect wildlife and the environment. Send them along to some of OPWP’s activities, so they can learn about the local wildlife that lives here, begin to appreciate it, and find out what they can do to help.