Birds That Nest on the Ground: A List of 10 Common Species


Written by

Clinton Atkins



George Dukes

Birds That Nest on the Ground

Do you know that not all birds build their nest on trees? Interestingly, there are various kinds of nests that birds build depending on their habitat. You will soon find out from this article, a list of unique avian species that build their nests right on the ground.

Learn about how these birds build their nest in this article, pictures included! Let’s meet the many species of birds that nest on the ground.

List of Ground-Nesting Birds

1. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella manga)


The Eastern Meadowlark is a medium-sized passerine bird from the family Icteridae. It belongs to a family of New World Blackbirds with a characteristically black plumage mixed with bright colors of yellow or red. They are usually found in eastern North America.

The female meadowlark is smaller than the male. The average size of an adult meadowlark is 19 to 28 centimeters (7.5 to 11 inches) in length, with a wingspan of 35 to 40 centimeters (14 to 16 inches).

This songbird has a bright yellow underside with a black “V” on the chest with white on the sides. The upper parts are speckled with brown, and the head has brown and black stripes. The eastern meadowlark possesses a long and pointed beak.

Breeding and nesting happen during the summer months. They build their nest on the ground depressions in fields and marshlands, usually covered with grass that acts as a roof to keep predators away.

2. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)


The Bobolink, which is a member of the New World blackbird family, is also known as the “rice bird” because it likes to feed on grains. It is the only one of its species under the genus Dolichonyx. They are widely distributed in the United States, Canada, and parts of South America.

The bobolink is a small blackbird with an average length of 5.9 to 8.3 inches. It weighs approximately 1-2 oz and has an average wide wingspan of 10.6 inches.

The male during breeding season is a head-turner with white plumage on the back and black underparts. It has a cream-colored patch on the head. The female has brownish, dull feathers.

These small birds that nest on the ground do so in a location within the male bird’s territory. The female gets to choose the spot, and it is usually below the bushes of herbaceous plants such as clover or meadow rue.

The nest is cup-shaped and around 2 inches deep, usually dug on wet soil. The walls of the nest are made of dried grass and leaves, while the floor of the nest is lined with fine grass. The female bobolink usually builds the nest in a span of 1-2 days.

3. Puffin (genus Fratercula)


Puffins are pelagic birds that refer to the three species under the genus Fratercula. Colonies of puffin species breed on seaward islands and coastal cliffs.

The three known species of puffins are the tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata), the horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata), and the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica).

In the United States, the only nesting site of Atlantic puffins is found in the islands of Maine. There is no doubt that among the Maine birds, the puffin is the most popular one. Tourists visit this state during puffin-watching season which only lasts for four months a year, usually from May to August.

Puffins are stout but sturdy birds with stubby tails and short wings. They have a black cap on the head, and this color extends to the back. They have white faces and chests, and they sport colorful beaks.

The puffin is just one example of a bird that digs holes in the ground. The male puffin builds the nest and defends it. Both male and female horned puffins build their nest together on cliffs or rock clefts by making a tunnel.

In contrast, the Atlantic and tufted puffin prefer to burrow in the ground, particularly on a spongy type of soil, and make tunnels as deep as 2.75 meters.

4. American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

birds list

The American Avocet belongs to a family of stilts or birds that have long legs and long slender bills that are found wading in wetlands. This black and white shorebird has long legs and an upcurved bill.

They are usually found breeding in marshlands, along beaches and lakes in Canada, specifically in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the US, their breeding sites are found in Washington, Colorado, Utah, and states as far down as New Mexico and Oklahoma. They are even found in Texas.

Avocets build the simplest of nests, a scrape nest on the ground lined with feathers and grass. This is a bird that builds a nest on the ground because the habitat they choose to live in has little to no shrubbery. To keep their eggs from overheating, they build nests close to the water and cover them with their bellies after a dip.  

5. California Quail (Callipepla California)

bird that builds nest on ground

Also known as the Valley quail, this ground-dwelling bird belongs to a group of New World Quails under the family Odontophoridae. They are easily identified because of their six-feathered plume. Their body plumage is brown with white streaks.

Typically found in the southwestern states of the United States, they stay in these places all year round. Currently, California quails are also found in Canada, Hawaii, and parts of South America such as Uruguay and Brazil.

As one of the types of ground birds, they make shallow nests under the shade of bushes or any type of vegetation. The females are prolific breeders, laying an average of 12 eggs per clutch.

6. Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)


The wild turkey is a large game bird, one of the heaviest ground bird species in the order Galliformes. Despite their size and weight, the wild turkey is a fast flier and often found perching on trees.

Wild turkeys are non-migratory and are year-round residents in the habitats they choose. They like woodlands and forest edges all over the United States except in the Alaskan region.

The adult wild turkey has black feathers all over its body and long legs. The males have a characteristic bald head, reddish throat, and a bunch of red wattles hanging on their necks.

The males mate with many partners and have no role during nesting or in raising the young. The females build a scratch nest on the ground, under a shrub, or surrounded by woody vegetation. The clutch size is usually made of 4-17 yellow to tan colored eggs speckled with red spots.

7. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)


The Mute Swan is called such because, compared to other species of swans, it tends to be less noisy. This species belongs to the Anatidae family of waterfowls, including ducks, geese, and other ground-nesting birds.

They are a large species of swan. Males are larger than females and measure an average body length of 55-63 inches and an expansive wingspan of around 79 to 94 inches. They are also heavy at 20-32 pounds on average and are one of the heavyweights among birds that fly.

They are very adaptable. They can dwell in city ponds, estuaries, and lakes. They are found in temperate European regions. In North America, small numbers can be found breeding in the Northwest and even up to states in the South, such as Virginia.

The male mute swan usually selects the nesting site and is the first to start building the nest in the shape of a mound. They usually choose shallow water near vegetation, where they make nests on the ground.

Both the male and female mute swans are responsible for building and protecting the nest. They mate for life and tend to return to the same nest to rebuild it every year.

8. Flamingo (order Phoenicopteriformes)


The flamingo is a type of wading bird that belongs to the family Phoenicopteridae. There are six extant species of flamingo to date, four are found around America while the other two (Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo) are native to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The name ‘flamingo’ is derived from the Spanish term “Flamengo” which means flame-colored about their colorful feathers. Aside from their flashy feathers, they do stand out, quite literally, because of their long and svelte legs as well as the graceful movements of their neck.

Flamingoes are social birds and they breed in colonies. Nesting is done in shallow water and they are the type of birds that lay eggs on the ground.

Flamingos usually lay a single egg only on a depression at the top of a mound nest built from mud, grass, twigs, and leaves. This type of nest keeps the temperature ideal for the egg to hatch. Both male and female flamingos take turns incubating the egg.

9. Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)


Sandhill cranes are tall and slender-legged birds that belong to a group of large cranes under the family Gruidae. Their plumage is predominantly a dull gray but they have this red patch on their foreheads and a white cheek. They have a long and pointed black bill.

These species of cranes raise only one brood every year. They live in marshlands, open fields, and wetlands, where they also build their nests. Some of them build on dry ground while others prefer making nests in wet areas, preferably in areas of vegetation.

They make a mound nest using materials such as dry grass, stems, and twigs. A cup-shaped depression is created on top of the nest lined with finer and smaller organic materials to house the egg.

10. Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia)


This is a small owl that is unique compared to other raptors. First, they nest in burrows in the ground. Second, they are not nocturnal like most owls but they are frequently active in the daytime.

The male and female burrowing owls are very similar in size and appearance. On average, they are only 7-11 inches in length and have a wingspan of 20-24 inches. They are very light in terms of weight at 140-240 grams (5-8 oz).

In pictures of birds, burrowing owls will have intense yellow eyes, white distinctive eyebrows, and a white patch on their chin. Their plumage is brown with specks of white.

Burrowing owls use nests on the ground that were dug and abandoned by other animals such as skunks, rats, prairie dogs, and squirrels. They line their nests with a variety of materials such as cow dung or any type of cattle manure available as well as grass, leaves, and feathers.


That concludes our list of birds that have a different way of building nests other than on trees or elevations. These birds that nest on the ground are fascinating to read about and we hope you learned something new from this article.

Now that you are aware of which birds build their nests on the ground, next time you go out in fields or wetlands, watch where you’re going because you might stumble upon a bird’s nest!

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