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The One-Eyed Dunnock

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

A dunnock, but not the one-eyed dunnock.

Sitting by the window this morning, I noticed a hedge sparrow (dunnock) shuffling around in the hollow at the base of the pergola. I wondered what exactly it was doing so reached for my glasses and saw that this dunnock was pecking at the eyes of another that seemed to have been trying to tuck itself away in the hollow as a last-ditch attempt to avoid its bully. Totally un-Attenborough like, I decided I’d better go break it up. Having scared the bully away, I reached for the victim, the bird making no attempt to stop me picking it up. When in hand I saw one eye had been pecked clean out and the other one was bleeding though, as focusing on me, functional. It was clearly afraid but in no shape to fly away and perhaps, I’d like to think, it felt a little safer in my hands.

I took him (I later identified it as a male) inside and put him in a box with a handful of seed, aiming to give him a bit of recovery time from his ordeal. Later, seeing that he seemed to be in a much better state, I took him outside and opened the box whereupon he flew away into a nearby hazel, rested for a while, then flew off further into the wood. I stood watching, wondering how a one-eyed dunnock would fare out there, in the wild wood. I made a note to research the, to me, strange behaviour of these two birds in my books later in the day…

…so, having done the research…

…well, seems my little one-eyed friend might have been mixed up in a real situation! It transpires that these guys can have quite a complicated sex life, inevitably leading to aggro. The males are often polygynous, meaning they can mate with two or more females, who themselves can be polyandrous, having two or more males! That’s not even it – polygynandry also occurs, two or three males mating with three or four females. Group sex basically, no? Two males can also cooperate to defend a territory, one being and alpha, one the beta. In this situation the alpha spends a lot of time watching the beta – well, wouldn’t you? The females, having mated with the alpha, go about trying to also mate with the beta. Well, I don’t know if my little one-eyed fella was the alpha overthrown, or the beta who’d played a little too hard, I just hope he had had enough fun. I doubt with just one eye he can go on as an alpha or a beta. I’m hoping he can get a job as an omega in some quiet wood and settle down with a cross-eyed tit.

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