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Here’s a blast from the past. First published by Viva Lewes in March 2015 here’s Michael Blencowe’s feature on the dunnock (Prunella modularis) illustrated by yours truly!
“Anyway, I’m not one to gossip, but I flew down to the bird table at number 30 yesterday and I bumped into that house sparrow. You know how sparrows love to chatter, well we got talking over the fence. You know that dunnock that lives in the hedge at number 26? Well she’s certainly nothing to look at is she? But that’s dunnocks for you, all greys and browns. Not exactly the most striking bird in the garden. Keeps herself to herself.”
“These dunnocks aren’t like the rest of us. All sexual equality they are. So in February it was her who was first out there in the garden establishing a territory. Then she started seeing this fella who had a territory next door. Well it was all innocent enough but that’s when it all kicked off. This other neighbouring dunnock showed up and he started strutting and serenading her like he was bleedin’ Cassanova. Well, her fella was having none of it – there was fighting and feathers everywhere and he soon saw him off. But Cassanova didn’t give up – he sat in the hedge warbling and wooing her. Well, when her fella’s back was turned she was over there like a flash, twirling her tail at him. In no time they were ‘avin’ a bit of ‘ows yer father right under the hedge. Then she flew straight back to her other fella looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her beak and then they went at it. It was then that the third fella showed up and she snuck off with him too for some rumpy-pumpy behind the pampas grass in the front garden.”
“Well it was like this for the next week apparently. She was at it 100 times a day! Gets my feathers ruffled just thinking about it. By April she was proudly sat in her nest incubating four sky blue eggs which hatched into four little chicks. But the thing was all three of her fellas thought that they were the father – so she had them all scrabbling ‘round searching for bugs. Her four babies must have been the most well-fed chicks in the street. I reckon that was her little game all along.”
“But that wasn’t the end of it. It turns out that her first fella was bringing bugs to another dunnock in the next garden who also had his chicks. And the other two were the fathers of another dunnock’s chicks two gardens over. You couldn’t make it up. There isn’t even a word for what these dunnocks get up to. Well, there is. Polygynandry they call it. Scandalous I call it. If the people of Lewes only knew what goes on in their very own backyards”
Words by Michael Blencowe. Illustration by Mark Greco. First published in by Viva Lewes Magazine in February 2015.