Irish Name: Donnóg
Scientific name: Prunella modularis
Bird Family: Dunnocks
Conservation status


Common resident throughout Ireland. One of Ireland's top-20 most widespread garden birds.


Roughly Robin-sized, the Dunnock is a sturdy dark brown bird, with bold black streaking and a bluish-grey head and neck, a thin pointed bill and orange-brown legs. Fairly common in gardens, parks, woodland and farmland, though usuaully only seen singly or in pairs. Tends to remain low in vegetation or creeps along the ground close to or under hedges.


A rapid jumble of notes given in one burst - the metallic grating quality has been likened to a squeaky wheel. Call a harsh, rasping "tcheh".


Small insects and their lavae. Will take scarps from bird table, including fat.


Breeds mainly in hedgerows, all over the country. Nest of moss and dead grass.



Monitored by

Countryside Bird Survey & Garden Bird Survey.

Blog posts about this bird

Birds of Prey

Irish Garden Birds 2020 - How much do your garden birds weigh?

There's still time to get started with the Irish Garden Bird Survey!  It's the biggest and longest-running survey of it's kind in Ireland. We need as many people as possible all over the country to take part this winter. Taking part couldn't be easier - See here for details on how to participate this winter . See below for information on how much your garden birds weigh, and why feeding them at this time of year is so important! 


The Irish Garden Bird Survey is kindly sponsored by Ballymaloe. Click below to learn about taking part this winter.

  The birds in your garden are much more worried about putting on weight this Christmas than you are! If you have a small body, your surface-to-mass ratio is much higher, which means there's more of a surface area for your body heat to escape from - i.e. you can lose heat very quickly. Heat is energy, and if you’re losing heat and burning off more body fuel than you put on each day then you’re in trouble! This is why feeding your garden birds is so worthwhile – not only are you giving them food high in calories, fat and protein, but you’re providing a predictable source of food so they don’t have to waste energy every day traversing the hedgerows of the countryside in search of any morsels that might keep them going. The winter days are short and the nights are long and cold, so anything that saves the birds energy is a gamechanger!   To really hammer home the point it’s worth thinking about just how little our garden birds actually weigh. We know this through bird ringing. Trained and licensed scientists and ornithologists, in a largely voluntary capacity, catch birds and fit them with a small metal ring to get an idea of how many individuals are in an area, how long they live, how far they travel and a whole host of other data which is pooled together to help us learn about some of the intricate details of the lives of our common and rare bird species. One of the standard bits of information recorded during ringing is the weight of the bird. People occasionally email BirdWatch Ireland saying they saw a ‘big Blackbird’ or a ‘small Starling’, but in reality the variation between individuals of the same species is generally quite small (except where males and females are quite different e.g. corvids, pigeons,  birds of prey). See below to get an idea of how much your garden birds weigh, and how much of a difference a few grams of peanuts, seeds or fatballs make to their attempt to survive the winter! And remember, if you're buying bird food, feeders, nestboxes and other bird-related gifts this winter then check out the BirdWatch Ireland Shop here - by buying from us you're also helping to support our conservation work!     Traditionally, one might compare the weight of a small bird to that of a coin or a known amount of coins but given the likelihood that your wallet or purse has more plastic cards than coins in it, lets go with that. So, the average bank or supermarket clubcard weighs 5g – keep that in mind!  

Less than 10 grams (two bank cards)

The smallest bird in Ireland is the Goldcrest – they weigh a mere 6g on average but can range from 4.7g (i.e. less than your bank card!) to 6.1g. Not far behind them, with average weights of 9-10g are Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Treecreeper and Wren. These species will be the most active in your garden over the winter because the days are so short that they literally need to be feeding non-stop throughout the day to maintain their weight and survive the night! Wrens and Long-tailed Tits, amongst others, are known to communally roost during the winter – that is, they find some sheltered location and squeeze in together for the night in an effort to share body heat! In the case of Long-tailed Tits, because they’re all closely related they will take turns in the middle (i.e. warmest part) of the group before moving to the outside to give someone else a turn. For other species, where a roost will comprise of a number of unrelated individuals, they’re less generous, so you don’t want to be the last one in and stuck on the outside of the group!  

10-20g (two to four bank cards)

Some individual Blue Tits and Lesser Redpolls might come in at under 10g, but generally they average around 11g and can range up to 12.5g on a good day! Siskins are only slightly bigger at 13g, and then you have Goldfinch (17g), Great Tit (18g) and Robin (19g). Robins play it smart by staying territorial in the winter, and even the females will guard a territory – sometimes one where there’s suitable food but a lack of nesting space so it wouldn’t have been a core territory during the summer. By identifying somewhere with a suitable food source and aggressively guarding it, they save themselves a lot of energy and trouble having to range far and wide in search of food. Goldfinches do the opposite by flocking, but the more eyes in a flock the more likely you are to find food.

20-30g (four to 6 bank cards, or 3 or 4 € coins)

Despite looking much chunkier and heavier, Bullfinches weigh the same on average as the slimline Pied Wagtail (both 21g), and our wintering Blackcaps are the same. Chaffinch weigh in at 24g on average, and it won’t surprise you that House Sparrow (27g) and Greenfinch (28g) are at the top end of the scale when it comes to ‘small’ garden birds. Still, as heavy as they might be, you’re still talking a few bank cards, or four €1 coins! When you think about the battle for survival that these birds face day in day out, it’s amazing that something so small and slight can achieve so much! Don't forget, in the case of the Chaffinch some of the birds in your garden will have migrated from as far away as Scandinavia, in the hope that their chances of finding food and surviving the winter are better here, even taking into account the pressures of migration. Tipping the Scales Of course, there are some much bigger species that use Irish gardens. Despite all looking roughly the same size, there’s a lot of variation in the Thrush family. Redwings, which migrate here from Iceland and Scandinavia each winter weigh around 63g, our resident (and some migratory..) Song Thrushes range from 64-90g but usually come in around 83g, Blackbirds and Fieldfares both average around 100g and Mistle Thrush is the real heavyweight of the family at 130g.   Once you start looking at bigger birds, there tend to be more of a difference between the sexes, with males generally bigger than females for the crows and pigeons. Amongst the crow species, Jays weigh the least (168g), followed by Magpies and Jackdaws (220g, 230g), then Rooks (450g) and Hooded Crow (510g). In the case of Magpies, males are around 40g heavier than females and for Rooks there’s a 60g difference, with the others showing similar discrepancies. For the pigeons, Collared Doves (205g) weigh around half as much as Woodpigeons (507g). Imagine being a 10g Coal Tit, plucking spilled seeds from under a bird feeder when a Woodpigeon more than 50 times your size lands beside you!
Collared Doves look only a bit smaller than Woodpigeons, but actually Woodpigeons weigh twice as much!
  Lastly there’s the exception to the rule of sexes. Amongst many birds of prey the female is actually bigger than the male, and it’s the same for Sparrowhawks. Females weigh on average 266g (range 186-345g), while males are a third smaller at 151g (range 131-180g). Such a big discrepancy between such specialist birds means that male and female Sparrowhawks will actually target very different-sized prey to each other.   male-sparrowhawk-perching-on-mossy-rock
Male Sparrowhawks are a third smaller than females.
  When you realise just how small most of our garden birds are, you can really appreciate the importance of a reliable food source for them, particularly during the winter! Remember, BirdWatch Ireland needs your support now more than ever, and our annual membership makes for a great christmas gift that will keep on giving throughout the year! See here for full details.  

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is running right now and taking part couldn't be easier! Click here for full details about the survey as well as as advice on caring for your birds through the winter.

This winter we're running a series of blogs like this one, filled with facts and figures about your favourite garden birds, click here for more.

We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe  for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey. 


Click below to download your count form for this year's Irish Garden Bird Survey.

Garden Birds

Irish Garden Bird Survey - Results from Winter 2019/20

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is the biggest and longest-running survey of it's kind in Ireland. We need as many people as possible all over the country to take part this winter. Taking part couldn't be easier - See here for details on how to participate this winter - and see below for what last year brought for Ireland's favourite garden birds.


The Irish Garden Bird Survey is kindly sponsored by Ballymaloe. Click below to learn about taking part this winter.

  The Irish Garden Bird Survey has been running since 1989/90. Every winter, individuals, families and housemates all across Ireland send us counts of their garden birds during the coldest winter months, which in turn has provided us with a huge wealth of data about these birds. Some species have increased a lot over that time, while others continue to decrease. Some show huge declines after even a few days of snow and frost, whereas others are evidently much better able to cope. And within the same winter, we see important differences in the birds that use urban gardens versus those in rural ones, or differences at a county level. Long-term surveys are crucial to the monitoring and conservation of our favourite birds in Ireland, and the more years you take part in the Irish Garden Bird Survey then the more valuable your data becomes! See below for an overview of the results from the survey last winter (2019/20).  

An example of the type of things you receive in your welcome pack when you first join as a BirdWatch Ireland member.

  If you’re a BirdWatch Ireland member, you’ll have already received these results in the winter edition of Wings magazine that would have arrived in the post at the start of November. If you’re not a BirdWatch Ireland member you can still take part in the survey (and we urge you to!), but if you go the extra step and become a member you won’t regret it! You’ll receive a welcome pack full of information about Ireland’s birds, including a garden birds poster with loads of advice on how to look after birds in your garden. You’ll also get our Wings magazine four times per year – the gift that keeps on giving! And if you opt for a family membership, there’s our kids magazine ‘Bird Detectives’ twice a year too. Membership makes a fantastic gift for family or friends, and you’ll be supporting Ireland’s largest wildlife conservation charity in the process! (click here to see the different membership options available)     Top 10 Irish Garden Birds One of the most important things about last winter, from a birds point of view, is that it was pretty mild throughout. On top of that, the winter before was much the same. As a result, no birds were particularly hard-hit by frost or snow, and many birds continued their recovery from the 'Beast from the East' a couple of winters previous. For the tenth year in a row, the Robin was the most common bird in Irish Gardens last winter – seen in 99.8% of gardens! Blackbird and Blue Tit were close behind, and the sheer abundance of these birds in the Irish countryside means they’re more often than not the top 3 birds recorded each year. Outside the top 3, Chaffinch held on to 4th place, and Great Tit moved up one to get into the top 5. That meant Magpie lost out and was relegated to 6th, though were still seen in 90% of gardens. After that we have the ever-popular Goldfinch which moved up to 7th, their highest ever position in the rankings table. It wasn’t until winter 2000/01 that Goldfinch managed to break into the top 20, but it has spent 9 of the last 10 winters in the top 10 and is going from strength to strength. House Sparrow are a pretty robust and tough bird, so they always tend to do well, though are absent from areas where there’s no suitable nest site in the summer, as they don’t tend to move far even in the winter. Wren, as our second-smallest bird, are still recovering from the Beast from the East a few winters back but jumped up two places to 9th last winter. And finally, the always-active Coal Tit dropped one position but still stayed in the top 10. In Ireland we have our own subspecies of Coal Tit, and reports from around the country this autumn suggest that they’ve had a very good year – so I’m predicting they might climb up a few places in the table this winter!   Top 20 Irish Garden Birds As we move down the table, there’s always a bit more movement from year to year.  Starling had previously been in the top 10 but dropped out last year. Dunnock and Woodpigeon kept the same positions as the previous year, and occurred in over 70% of Irish gardens. Song Thrush, another species that tends to get hit quite badly by snowy winters, moved up two places to 15th. It’s a good indication that a bad winter every now and again is ok – our birds have evolved to cope with that. The more bad years we have in a row though, means they don’t have a chance to recover before getting hit hard again. The two consecutive cold winters around 2010 and 2011 really hit some of our birds quite badly, including Song Thrush. Further down the table, Hooded Crow have gradually moved up the table over the lifetime of the Irish Garden Bird Survey, and last year was their best year yet – reaching 18th in the rankings table and occurring in 60% of Irish gardens. This is probably down to a genuine increase in their numbers nationally in recent years, as well as increased use of gardens. Pied Wagtail retained their spot in the top 20, occurring in 54% of Irish Gardens. Interestingly, if we delve a bit deeper, we see that they occurred in over 70% of rural gardens last year, but only 30-35% of urban and suburban gardens. That’s why we ask whether your garden is in an urban/suburban/rural garden as part of the survey – different species show different patterns of distribution and behaviour and it’s important we capture that!   Other interesting results from last winter include the small species like Long-tailed Tit (23rd place) and Goldcrest (24th) jumping several places up the rankings table, seemingly a continued recovery after their numbers were hit by the snow during the 'Beast from the East' a few years ago. Another highlight was the first recording of Ring-necked Parakeets in Irish gardens, the continued increase in the number of gardens and counties that have had visits from Great-spotted Woodpeckers. What will this winter bring? A Waxwing winter? A bounty of Bramblings? The more people taking part in the survey, the more we'll find out!  
A full and detailed account of last year's Irish Garden Bird Survey results is featured in a three page article in our Wings magazine, sent out to members this winter.
  So that’s just a flavour of what the Irish Garden Bird Survey tells us each year. If you’re a member, your Wings magazine will give you the top 30 list as well as additional details on many of the species and trends we’ve seen. If you’re not a member, then take a look at the different membership options, and remember – it makes for a much better Christmas gift than socks or scarves!!

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is running right now and taking part couldn't be easier! Click here for full details about the survey as well as as advice on caring for your birds through the winter.

This winter we're running a series of blogs like this one, filled with facts and figures about your favourite garden birds, click here for more.

We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey.


Click below to download your count form for this year's Irish Garden Bird Survey.



Similar Species


Irish Name:
Scientific name:
Troglodytes troglodytes
Bird Family: