Glamorous Accentors

Perhaps you think of Dunnocks as one of the most non-descript of our garden birds – a bit drab or boring because they tend to avoid the feeders and just poke around a little on the ground in search of small seeds and insects – am I right?

However, despite their apparent drabness Dunnocks lead pretty exciting social lives, often holding territory in threesomes with two males and a female. The female often mates with both males and both males may defend the territory against the arrival of intruding males.

Dunnocks while once commonly called ‘Hedge Sparrows’ are actually members of the Prunellidae family. This week marks the second anniversary of one my best ever bird finds, one of the Dunnock’s more glamorous cousins – a Siberian Accentor. Up until October 2016 this species had never been recorded in Britain before; by the end of that month 14 individuals had been found in an unprecedented mini-invasion of this amazing rarity.

I was incredibly lucky to find one of those on my coastal birdwatching patch in Northumberland and it was seen and photographed by many hundreds of happy birders!

Siberian Accentors – as the name suggests – spend their breeding months in Siberia before migrating to winter in China and Korea. Before 2016 it was a very rare vistor to Europe let alone Britain with only 32 previous records.

No one knows why in one year there was this sudden movement to the west – it hasn’t happened before as far back as records go and hasn’t been repeated in 2017 or 2018 so all we can do is speculate as to the causes that drove these gaudy accentors to travel thousands of miles in the opposite direction to their normal migration route. It certainly wasn’t just to visit their plainer cousins, that’s for sure!

You can help any Dunnocks visiting your garden by scattering a little from a seed mix containing small seed such as the Gardenbird Ultiva Perfect10 on the ground or along borders in your garden.

My advice is always look twice at your garden Dunnocks though just in case; there are another three members of the family in addition to Siberian Accentor (Alpine, Radde’s and Black-throated) and all would be massive rarities in Britain so if any of your garden Dunnocks look a little gaudy then it’s always worth trying to take a picture and sharing it just in case!


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.