Before the times of scientific classification, the implications found in the everyday names of numerous birds and animals were of little importance; a nightjar might be a fern owl, a tern a lot swallow, a willow warbler a willow wren, along with a bat a flitter mouse. Nowadays, when it’s felt that such names suggest family affinities that do not exist, most of these have been found unacceptable for
general usage, whilst they are still of great interest as vernacular nicknames.
However for some reason the dunnock continues to be stubbornly called a hedge sparrow by individuals who know perfectly well that it’s no type of sparrow. The argument that ‘the name which was good enough for Shakespeare is a good example for me’ may be extended to the acceptance of the semi-magical natural history recorded by the same authoritative pen.
Even just in precedence of known usage ‘dunnock’ (a.d. 1475) has priority over ‘hedge sparrow’ (a.d. 1530). But aside from this controversial few naming or mis-naming, the dunnock arouses little interest since it shuffles around our gardens and parks. It comes down into its at last when its early nest is located, for the brilliance of their bright blue eggs is the one conspicuous feature in the life
of the bird.
But for its lack of any outstanding qualities, the sober little dunnock, for no very obvious reasons, is really a remarkably plentiful and successful species. It resembles the wren in the adaptability to widely differing surroundings, and it is just as much in your own home on some bleak, heathery moorland or gale-swept Hebridean island, as around the door inside a suburban garden.
Its size and capability to subsist on seeds when animal matter is scarce render it less susceptible than the wren to severe winters. When cuckoos were more plentiful they have to have been effective natural regulators of dunnock population, with this bird is much favoured like a foster-parent for the young cuckoo. Now, with both cuckoos and hawks much scarcer than they were in the past, the dunnock has few enemies except cats-or individuals who still think it might be destroyed like a ‘sparrow’.