Why Do Robins Chase Dunnocks? Garden Birds & Territoriality

You may have robins in your garden that appear to chase all kinds of other birds! Robins, although friendly towards humans, are aggressive by nature. There could be a few different reasons why robins are chasing dunnocks, blue tits and sparrows out of your garden!

  • Territory Battles: One of the main reasons you may see robins and dunnocks clashing heads in your garden is due to the territorial nature of both birds. Male and female robins are both fiercely territorial, and quite aggressive towards other birds, despite how friendly they are towards humans. Dunnocks are also very territorial, although not as naturally aggressive. Dunnocks will engage in conflict when there is an overlap of territories and a need to assert a hierarchy.
  • Competition For Food: The similar diet of robins and dunnocks is another reason why robins chase dunnocks. Both robins and dunnocks feed on invertebrates such as worms, spiders, beetles and other insects. Robins will also eat seeds and fruit, but dunnocks tend not to unless it’s the height of summer. When food is in short supply in the winter months, male and female robins will commonly chase dunnocks out of their territories so they can claim more of the food in the area.
  • Competition For Habitats: In addition to the competition for food, robins and dunnocks also have similar habitats. When spring rolls around and these garden birds are building their nests, there is competition for the best nesting spots. Robins typically nest in the nooks and crannies of tree trunks and log piles, and dunnocks tend to stick to nesting spots low to the ground to be near their food source. Robins will chase male and female dunnocks away from their nesting site if they get too close.
  • Similar Appearance: Some of those who study the behaviour of male and female robins believe that the natural aggression towards dunnocks could be a result of their similar appearance. The birds are a similar shape and size, and (with the exception of a robin’s red markings) they look very similar.  This means that a robin may feel more threatened by a dunnock than it would by another garden bird, such as a blue tit, for example.

The robin (‘European robin’ or ‘robin redbreast’) is a common garden bird found in the UK. They are distinguishable from other garden birds due to their colouring, size and behaviour.

There are approximately 6.7 million breeding pairs of robins in the UK, at the time of writing. With the characteristic red-orange chest, face and neck, it’s generally quite easy to spot one. Male and female robins alike have these vibrant red markings. The orange chest of a robin is lined either side with blue-grey lines, and the top part of the robin’s body, along with the tail and wings, are brown. Robins have white bellies, black, pointed bills and black legs.

Robins are one of the smaller garden birds, measuring up to 13cm in length. They’re smaller than dunnocks and sparrows, and typically weigh anywhere between 16g and 22g. The have a wingspan of 20cm, and both male and female robins are similar in size.

In addition to the unique markings and small size, robins can also be distinguished from other garden birds by their behaviour. Robins live in both urban and rural environments; hedge rows, gardens, parks and woodland all make for secure homes for robins. They are very friendly towards humans, but aggressive towards other birds, especially other robins who enter their territory.

Robins eat invertebrates, seeds and fruits, in addition to scraps of cake and biscuit crumbs! They can often be spotted at a garden birdfeeder, eating all kinds of different bird feed but particularly mealworms. They do also use open-fronted nesting boxes, provided they are one to two metres off the ground and concealed in a bit of vegetation.

Young robins don’t develop their red-orange markings until they malt for the first time when they are 2 – 3 months old. Before that, they are a speckled brown colour. ‘Nestlings’ (birds that are between 0 – 15 days old) will not yet have many of their adult feathers, whereas ‘fledglings’ (birds that are between 16 – 30 days old) will.

The dunnock (‘hedge sparrow’ or ‘hedge warbler’) is another common garden bird found in the UK. Dunnocks are distinguishable from other garden birds due to their colouring, size and behaviour in the wild. Dunnocks are beautiful birds, recognisable by their brown colour, similar to a sparrow. They differ from sparrows by their sharp beak, rather than the conical beak shape of other garden birds. Their crown is usually a blue-grey colour, and male and female dunnocks are very similar in appearance.

Dunnocks are slightly larger than robins, on average measuring 14cm in length. They weigh more too, typically between 19g and 24g. Their wingspan is up to 21cm across, and male and female dunnocks are similar sizes.

Dunnocks are not as friendly towards humans as robins are. They shy away from humans, and don’t typically feed from hanging feeders. They can often be found darting around on the ground instead, foraging for invertebrates, their main food source. Their sharp beaks are for the purpose of eating worms and grubs, and are not suited to eating seeds.

Dunnocks, like robins, live in both urban and rural areas across the UK. They tend to stay closer to the ground, and favour hedge rows, shrubs and tall grass. Unlike many other garden birds, male and female dunnocks don’t fly in groups. They have individual territories, and there is rarely any overlap.

Young dunnocks are very similar in appearance to adult dunnocks, with the exception of a browner head instead of grey markings. The nestlings will have few feathers, and may not have opened their eyes yet. The fledglings, on the other hand, are likely to have most of their feathers and will be beginning to learn how to fend for themselves.

In conclusion, the reason you see robins chasing dunnocks in your garden will depend on the abundance of food nearby, the population of birds in your area, and how many suitable nesting spots there are!