What is the difference between Sparrow and Dunnock?

Sparrows and Dunnocks can appear quite similar to the untrained eye, and many people could be forgiven for thinking that they predominantly see sparrows on their feeder.  However, the Dunnock is equally widespread, and in this guide, I will highlight the key differences.

Generally, there are some very subtle differences between Sparrow and Dunnock.  The Sparrow is slightly larger than the Dunnock. The Sparrow’s beak tends to be thicker than that of the Dunnock, which is typically thinner and pointer and Sparrows heads are brown with grey crowns, while the Dunnocks head is blue-grey in appearance.


The Dunnock is a small brown, and blue-grey bird that is relatively unobtrusive, which is different from that of the Sparrow described as a noisy and gregarious bird. Both male and female Dunnocks look very much the same, and they are usually found on their own unless with a mate and can often be found around the edges of flower beds and bushes. I witness this behaviour in my garden regularly as they can often be seen skipping along the borders and around a low-level birdbath I have in place. They are frequent visitors to my seed feeders and a big fan of sunflower hearts which they seem to enjoy throughout the day. I was fortunate enough to capture some footage of their visit to my feeder in slow motion. The beak of the Dunnock differs from that of the Sparrow, being thinner and pointier.

FoodInsects, spiders, worms and seeds

When and where you find them?

Dunnocks are resident in the UK with a few exceptions in Scotland but can be generally found right across the UK. As a result, you will be able to see them all year round.

House Sparrow (male)

The House Sparrow is a similar length to the Dunnock but with a slightly larger wingspan. Adult House Sparrows can also weigh as much as 15g more than the Dunnock, with males appearing a little more plumper in appearance than the slimline Dunnock. The Sparrow’s beak is perfectly adapted to breaking open seeds and is much stubbier than that of the Dunnock. The House Sparrows ability to adapt to their surroundings and specifically their willingness to exploit any waste left behind (mainly by humans) mean they can be found right around the world. You may have witnessed Sparrows merrily hopping around under your table, hoovering up crumbs while you enjoyed coffee and cake the last time you visited a cafe. Although there has been a marked decline in the UK based Sparrow population over the last few decades. Recent evidence suggests that numbers are growing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

FACT: The male House Sparrow has a black bib and face mask

Sparrow (female)

FACT: The female House Sparrow has no black bib or face mask

House Sparrow (male/female)Figures
FoodSeeds, new leaf, scraps

When and where you find them?

Much like the Dunnock, the House Sparrow is a UK resident with a few exceptions in Scotland but can be generally found right across the UK. As a result, you will be able to see them all year round.

Tree Sparrow

The Tree Sparrow is smaller in size compared to the House Sparrow. Its brown crown and head and a black cheek spot also set it apart from the House Sparrow, which has a grey head and no cheek spot. The Tree Sparrow is far less gregarious than the House Sparrow and is much more cautious. Unlike the House Sparrow, which can often be found hopping around under table and chair legs while humans are still present. The Tree Sparrow prefers to keep its distance from humans but will use similar nesting and roosting spots to the House Sparrow. Much like the House Sparrow, there has been a marked decline in the population of Tree Sparrows over the last few decades, estimated at a staggering 93%, but recent evidence also suggests that numbers may be increasing.

Tree SparrowFigures
FoodSeeds and insects

When and where you find them?

Although resident to the UK, Tree Sparrows are generally more dispersed across the UK. Although they can be found in the South East of England and the central part of the UK, these areas tend to be more inland in sheltered locations, although there are exceptions to this, such as the East Coast of Scotland.

Other related questions asked

What is the smallest garden bird in the UK? With a wingspan of just 14cm, the smallest garden bird in the UK is the goldcrest which weighs just 6g and has an overall length of just 9cm. The goldcrest is easily identified by its dull greenish-grey pale bellow and distinctive black and yellow strip on its head. The male also has an orange centre line on its head.

What is the UK smallest bird of prey? The UK smallest bird of prey is the Merlin which is often confused with the Kestrel, but unlike them, the Merlin does not hover.

Where do Dunnocks build their nests in the UK? Like many other birds, Dunnocks like to make their nest’s in hedgerows and dense bushes safer from predators and can be found in both woodland and back gardens.

Is a hedge sparrow a Dunnock? The Dunnock is sometimes referred to by the name Hedge Sparrow, but this term is more a colloquial reference as the Dunnock is not a Sparrow. The term Hedge Sparrow is believed to stem from the similarities in appearance and its shyness compared to the Sparrow.

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I'm Wayne. For many years, I have been a fan of feeding the birds in my back garden and often asked myself questions about what I was seeing. This prompted me to research things further and I have continued to do so ever since. This is the site where I share everything I have learned.

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