Prunellidae - Accentors
The accentors are small, brown, unobtrusive sparrow-like birds, epitomised by the European Hedge Accentor, whose vernacular name, Dunnock, translates from Old English as, well, small brown bird. It is also something of an exception since all other species in this family are confined to mountainous areas, and usually only at altitudes of a 1000m or more; the dunnock is one of our more widespread birds. Why it should be so cosmopolitan is something of a mystery.
Accentors forage almost exclusively on the ground for small insects, or seeds and berries in the winter. Their mating systems are unusually flexible, with some pairs breeding monogamously (usually where resources are relatively scarce) and others breeding polygamously, either one male with two or more females (polygyny), one female with two or more males (polyandry), or, occasionally, several males and females together (polygynandry). This variety reflects the fact that males and females defend territories more or less independently. Where resources are rich (and hence territories can be small) it is possible for males to monopolise several females, or for females to attract several males. Study of this variation has lead to some fascinating general insights into behaviour and evolution.