Dunnock - Prunella modularis
Even in the bird world there is a top of the pops and the dunnock moved into the top five most frequently seen garden birds
in 2005, according to observations made by those members of the British Trust for Ornithology who contribute their findings
to Garden BirdWatch, a long running “citizen science” research programme. This means that most gardens in Kingston will
have a resident or regularly visiting dunnock; and yet, the bird is probably the least well-known even of the top twenty
in the garden, thanks to its unobtrusive colours (the “dun” part of the name is a reference to its grey-brown plumage) and
ground-feeding habit. In the spring, though, dunnocks may be seen out in the open on song posts, producing their brief and
rather scratchy warble.
Dunnocks have a host of local names, most of them little used these days. Many, like “blue tom”, “blue jig” and “blue sparrow”
probably refer to the colour of the birds’ eggs. Others, like “blind dunnock” and “foolish sparrow” are allusions not just to
the bird being one of those unfortunate species parasitised by the cuckoo but to the fact that cuckoo eggs laid in the nests
of dunnocks do not resemble those of the victim. This may suggest that cuckoos have only relatively recently (in evolutionary
terms) begun to prey on dunnocks. The most frequently used name for the dunnock is hedgesparrow (sometimes written as two
separate words) although the bird is unrelated to the sparrow family and is mainly insectivorous rather than seed-eating,
as its thin bill indicates. Dunnocks are far more likely to be seen under bird tables than on them. The dunnock’s sexual
behaviour is far more scandalous than anything practised behind the twitching suburban curtains in Wisteria Lane! There
are monogamous pairs but also instances of polygeny (one male with two or more females) polyandry (a female with more than
one male) and even polygynandry (two or three males sharing several females). They may look dull but dunnocks are full of
Greenfinch – Chloris chloris
I have a special affection for the greenfinch, as this is the species that got me hooked on birds for life. I had just moved
into a ground floor flat in North London where I had the first garden that I could call my own. After I’d hung up a peanut
bag, I was amazed to see several handsome bright green and yellow birds descend on it. I was even more surprised to discover
from my newly-purchased field guide that these birds – greenfinches – were among the commonest in Britain: and yet, I had
never consciously seen them before. How could I have been so unobservant, I wondered, and what else was I missing? Lots –
as I’m still finding out, 35 years later.
There can be few bird tables or bird feeders anywhere in the country that don’t have greenfinches as regular visitors.
Greenfinches also nest in gardens, in hedges or thick shrubs or trees including the otherwise notorious Leylandii. Their
twittering song and long rather nasal call-note – a drawn out “wheeeeeze” can be heard all over Kingston at the moment
and if they are not already nesting in your garden or that of a neighbour, they probably soon will be. After breeding,
they flock together with other closely-related species in search of seeds, which is why they can often be seen on waste
ground in urban areas.