How to Set up Ground Bird Feeders

White-Throated Sparrow and Fox Sparrow
Fyn Kynd Photography

Ground feeding areas are the simplest of all bird feeders and are great options for any bird-friendly backyard. With many different ways to incorporate ground-feeding into a yard or garden, every backyard birder can use ground bird feeders.

Birds That Feed on the Ground

Most birds may investigate food on the ground, but some birds are more dedicated ground feeders than others and will be right at home at low feeding stations and ground bird feeders. Common backyard species that are likely to enjoy ground-feeding include:

  • Grouse and quail
  • Roadrunners and anis
  • Thrashers
  • Ovenbirds and waterthrushes
  • Starlings, mynas, and grackles
  • Doves and pigeons
  • Sparrows, towhees, and juncos
  • Grosbeaks, cardinals, and buntings
  • Larks, pipits, and wagtails
  • Robins, bluebirds and other thrushes
  • Parrots
  • Northern flickers

With so many birds willing and able to take advantage of ground bird feeders, it is a great idea for every birder to add a low feeder to their backyard buffet.

Types of Ground Feeders

Ground bird feeders do not need to be fancy, and birds don't mind even if food is just sprinkled on a patch of bare, open ground. The seed that spills from hanging bird feeders creates an automatic ground feeding area, or extra seed may be sprinkled under bushes, a patio table or a deck to provide birds with a sheltered ground feeding area.

More dedicated options for ground bird feeders include…

  • Low platforms or tray feeders with short legs. These feeders may or may not have built-in covers or roofs to keep seed sheltered and dry.
  • Open concrete pads with or without a border to help keep seed contained. The floor inside a garden gazebo is a popular option for ground feeding.
  • An old birdbath basin, large plant saucer, pie tin or similar shallow dish placed directly on the ground. This is a great way to reuse dishes that are chipped, warped or cracked.
  • Pet food dishes or other simple, shallow containers that can be filled with a variety of foods for birds. Larger dishes will accommodate more ground-feeding birds.
  • A large sunflower head positioned directly on the ground for birds to pluck out the seeds. This is an easy way to offer homegrown sunflower seed to birds.

There is plenty of leeway for creative ground bird feeders, and any feeder that is no more than a few inches off the ground can be perfect to offer birds a snack.

Foods to Offer

Many ground-feeding birds are granivorous, and any type of birdseed can be good to offer in-ground dishes, trays and feeding areas. Just like any feeding station, however, a greater variety of foods will attract a greater variety of bird species. A handful of nuts may attract jays, nuthatches, and chickadees, while fruit may tempt orioles to visit. Small amounts of suet crumbles, mealworms or kitchen scraps for birds can also be great treats for ground feeding stations.

Tips for Ground Bird Feeders

Whether it is a dish, tray or just an open space, some tricks can help backyard birders make the most of any ground feeding station.

  • Consider using a wire cage over the top of the feeder or feeding area to keep larger birds or predators away from the treats and to give visiting birds a safer space to eat.
  • Offer only enough food for each day's feeding to avoid an accumulation of uneaten food that would attract rats, raccoons, mice or other unwanted feeder pests.
  • If possible, move ground-feeding areas or low feeders periodically to protect underlying grass and turf to keep it in peak condition. This will also keep the feeding area cleaner.
  • Opt for non-sprouting or no-waste bird foods to avoid creating an unwanted weedy space around the feeder, but never use herbicides or weed killers near ground-feeding areas.
  • Rake the area around the ground feeder regularly to keep any spilled or uneaten seed loose and visible so birds can access it more easily.
  • Position ground feeders under shelter such as under a large patio table, on a covered deck or inside a gazebo in winter to protect them from rain, ice and snow so birds can still feed.
  • Take steps to discourage feral cats and otherwise keep cats out of the yard so ground-feeding birds are not at as great of risk from prowling predators.

Ground bird feeders are simple to set up and use, and with just a bit of care for which foods are offered and now to keep these feeding stations clean, any backyard birder can enjoy visits from many hungry ground-feeding birds.