I guess there is usually a Dunnock in my garden, but I certainly don’t see them all the time. Even when they are picking up scraps under the bird feeders, and are in plain view, they seem to be more inconspicuous than other birds. Dunnocks don’t draw attention to themselves and are often described as mousy.
Now Dunnocks have one of the more complicated and interesting breeding systems of any European bird species (there is an outline of it in Remarkable Birds) which just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge behaviour from appearances all the time. Males and females each have territories, but the territories of males and females do not have the same boundaries; a network of male territories overlaps a network of female territories like two folds of net curtains may overlap against the window to form a complicated pattern of criss-crossed lines.
I’m not exactly sure what Dunnock songs mean to other Dunnocks but if Dunnocks are fairly inconspicuous to other Dunnocks, often creeping around on the ground and in the vegetation then a song seems like a useful thing to have to tell the world that you are still alive and still on territory.
It’s not the most spectacular song in the world, and Dunnocks don’t sing incredibly frequently to my ears, but now and again I stop and think ‘What’s that? Oh, yes, it’s a Dunnock’.
Here is its song;
It’s a jumble of notes, and a perfectly passable song but nothing to write home about. It’s difficult to imagine a poet missing the homeland and writing about his or her longing to hear the song of the Dunnock, and a quick internet search hasn’t proved me wrong on that conjecture.
But Dunnocks are creeping around and singing at this time of year in their mousy Dunnocky way.