When you hear the word ‘bird’s nest,’ where do you picture it should be located? Unsurprisingly, most people think of a cup nest resting on a tree, high above the ground. Many bird species, from big eagles to small songbirds, nest on tree branches to protect against predators.
Some bird species, however, defy this norm. Ground nesting birds can construct burrows, scrapes, or flat platforms to house their eggs above or beneath the ground.
If you’re yet to come across a ground nest and are interested in knowing what birds make these nests, this article is for you! Here, we’ll discuss 11 magnificent ground-nesting birds. Continue reading to learn more.
1. American Avocet
- Scientific name: Recurvirostra americana
- Length: 16-20″ (40-51cm)
- Weight: 9.7-14.8oz (275-420g)
- Wingspan: 27-30” (68-76cm)
American avocets have predominantly white bodies and white and black wings. Two black strips mark the bird’s backs, and their legs are a shade of bluish-gray.
Throughout the mating season, the birds’ necks and heads become orange. After mating, they turn to a pale gray color.
The male birds direct their females to search for an appropriate nesting site by scraping the ground. Both females and males collaborate to build a nest, typically on dikes or islands. After constructing the nest, they’ll shield it on the sides with grass, pebbles, vegetation, feathers, and other materials.
2. California Gull
- Scientific name: Larus californicus
- Length: 18-22″ (46-55cm)
- Weight: 15.2-36.9oz (430-1045g)
- Wingspan: 48-54” (122-137cm)
California gulls have a medium body and slim beak, unlike most other gull species. These birds possess gothic eyes, grayish backs, yellow legs, and beaks, but with a black stripe at the apex.
Throughout the mating season, the California gulls’ heads are entirely white, and the red spot on their lower mandible is much more prominent. If they aren’t breeding, brown marks are noticeable on the heads.
These birds make their nests at the foot of tiny trees or find a hidden spot in the open ground. Their nests are about 11 inches wide and require roughly seven days to complete.
3. Wild Turkey
- Scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo
- Length: 43.3-45.3” (110-115cm)
- Weight: 88.2-381oz (2500-10800g)
- Wingspan: 49.2-56.7” (125-144cm)
The wild turkey is among the heaviest and largest birds countrywide. This bird likes nesting in areas with lots of covers, such as tree bases or underneath brush heaps. However, the wild turkey occasionally builds its nest in an open space.
Wild turkeys build a one-inch-deep depression in the sand or soil, then surround it with rotting twigs, leaves, and other local organic material. Generally, their nests are between nine and 13 inches in length and up to 11 inches in width.
A wild turkey’s nest is a small depression, about an inch deep, lined with dead leaves, twigs, and other organic material from the surroundings. The average size of one of these nests is nine to 13 inches in length and up to 11 inches in width.
4. Cackling Goose
- Scientific name: Branta hutchinsii
- Length: 24.8-25.6″ (63-65cm)
- Weight: 49.3-841oz (2500-10800g)
- Wingspan: 42.5-43.7” (108-111cm)
The cackling goose is distinguished by its all-black appearance. It has a black body, including black feet and legs, and a black neck with a white ring. The remainder of its body is brown with white around its tail.
After the female has selected a suitable spot to nest, she will scrape to form a hole and then line it with plant matter such as leaves, twigs, moss, and grass. Then, she uses feathers to stack the nest in preparation for the eggs.
5. Sandhill Crane
- Scientific name: Grus canadensis
- Length: 47.2” (120cm)
- Weight: 119.9-172.8oz (3400-4900g)
- Wingspan: 78.7” (200cm)
Sandhill cranes predominantly have a pale grayish hue, while the legs and beak are black. You’ll also notice a distinctive red patch on the crown.
These birds prefer nesting in tiny wetlands up to 900 feet away from the perimeter of larger ones. Whatever vegetation is accessible, they’ll use it to construct nests between 30 to 40 inches broad.
Interestingly, sandhill cranes never change the location of their nests throughout their entire existence. So even if one of the mates dies, a new pair will build a nest within the same area.
6. Trumpeter Swan
- Scientific name: Cygnus buccinator
- Length: 54.3-62.2″ (138-158cm)
- Weight: 271.6-448oz (7700-12700g)
- Wingspan: 79.9” (203cm)
The trumpeter swan, the biggest native duck in North America, is white apart from its black legs and beak.
The male and female trumpeter swans work together to build the nest. They pick locations no more than 600 feet from shore, including little islands, floaty plants, artificial structures, or beaver dams.
The trumpeter swans take about 25 days to complete the nests. On average, these nests are approximately ten to 16 inches in diameter and four to eight inches deep.
7. Hermit Thrush
- Scientific name: Catharus guttatus
- Length: 5.5-7.1” (14-18cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.3oz (23-37g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-11.4” (25-29cm)
Hermit thrushes have compact, weighty bodies that are brown on top and white on the bottom. Their eyes are usually dark with a light-colored, thin eyering surrounding them.
They like nesting beneath small trees or shrubs. They also nest in forest paths and open spaces. The female is the one who constructs using natural materials like pine needles, mud, grass, leaves, or grass.
The nesting takes about seven days to complete. The finished nest is approximately two inches deep and four to six inches broad.
8. Common Ostrich
- Scientific name: Struthio camelus
- Length: 82.8-108” (210-274cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.3oz (63000-145000g)
- Wingspan: 78.7” (200cm)
The male ostrich makes many holes around its territory. The dominating female then goes around and selects her preferred nest for egg-laying.
The nest of an ostrich could hold up to 60 eggs at once. Therefore, multiple females can share a single nest. Considering that the diameter of one ostrich egg is about six inches, the nest measures approximately three meters in width and 30 to 60 inches deep.
- Scientific name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
- Length: 5.9-8.3” (15-21cm)
- Weight: 1.0-2.0oz (29-56g)
- Wingspan: 10.6” (27cm)
Bobolinks are little songbirds that prefer nesting at the foot of plants where the earth is moist. The female chooses the spot in the male’s territory and obtains the necessary building supplies.
The female constructs an unfloored nest from decaying plants and weed stems, lining it with grasses and tiny sedges straight to the ground. The complete nest is approximately two inches in depth and four to five inches in width.
10. American Black Duck
- Scientific name: Anas rubripes
- Length: 21-23″ (54-59cm)
- Weight: 25.4-57.9oz (720-1640g)
- Wingspan: 88-95 (35-37cm)
The female American black duck selects a suitable nesting location. In most cases, this is a secret hideout in a remote area of the farmland, uplands, grassy islands, or marshes.
The bird could choose a crack in rocks, a hay bale, a spot beneath brush piles, or a shrubby area. The nest is seven to eight inches wide and 1.5 inches deep on average. She lines the nest with stems, tiny leaves, and twigs during the egg-laying period to protect the eggs from breakage.
11. Black Rail
- Scientific name: Laterallus jamaicensis
- Length: 3.9-5.9″ (10-15cm)
- Weight: 1.0-1.2oz (29-35g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-11.0 (22-28cm)
Black rails have dark feathers with white dots on top. Their black beaks stand out against the wine-pink hue on the legs and the scarlet eyes.
Both sexes select the nesting site, typically a marsh with concealed living and dead vegetation. They create a spherical nest that measures 1.7 inches in depth and five inches in width.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about birds that nest on the ground.
Are there Underground birds?
Not really! There aren’t any birds that reside underground full-time. However, some birds prefer nesting underground, which is why some people may confuse them for being ‘underground birds.
What kind of bird builds its nest on the ground?
Most birds nest on the ground and often have difficulties flying around, such as ducks. However, simply because a bird can fly doesn’t mean it cannot make a nest on the ground.
Sometimes, there might be no trees to nest on, forcing the bird to nest in the most favorable location.
What is a ground-dwelling bird?
A ground-dwelling bird is a bird that lives mainly on the ground. These birds feed on the ground and usually rest and nest in low bushes or brush. These birds will stroll, run, or freeze when confronted rather than take flight.
Although some ground-dwelling birds cannot fly, others are hesitant fliers that cannot easily cover great distances. While flying, most flying ground-dwelling birds remain low to the ground or near the cover and soar in short, frenzied bursts instead of long distances.
It’s easy to presume that all birds nest in trees, but this isn’t the case with these ground-nesting birds. Although this list isn’t exhaustive, these are the 11 common ground-nesting birds.
Different birds build their nests differently, but all try to serve one purpose; to ensure safety from predators.