Terrestrial Bird

California Quail
Quail are excellent examples of terrestrial birds. Photo © Greg Schechter/Flickr/CC by 2.0


(noun) A type of bird that stays primarily on the ground, not only foraging on the ground but also generally nesting on the ground or very low in shrubbery as well as preferring to walk or run when threatened rather than taking flight. While some terrestrial birds are flightless, others are simply reluctant fliers that may have cumbersome flight styles less suited to lengthy flights. Most terrestrial birds that do fly generally stay low above the ground or close to cover when flying, and typically fly only in short, frantic bursts rather than making lengthy flights.

Other characteristics shared by terrestrial birds include:

  • Round jizz with compact body shapes and often round heads that seem proportionally small for the bird's overall size, and well as blunt, rounded wings
  • Heavily camouflaged plumage, particularly for females, though males may have bold coloration and markings that are useful for attracting mates and courtship displays
  • Large broods of precocial chicks that are able to leave the nest shortly after hatching, though they remain under parents' guidance for several weeks
  • Generally non-migratory ranges or very limited migration due to their less developed flight abilities and reluctance to fly
  • Strong, powerful legs that may be proportionally long for the overall body size and are essential for fast running and outdistancing predators
  • Often, though not exclusively, herbivorous diets of grains, seeds and plant material, though insects are important as protein for young, growing birds

    Terrestrial birds are acutely vulnerable to habitat loss, as they are less capable of relocating to new ranges if suitable habitat is destroyed. Invasive predators are another critical threat to these birds, as their ground nests and terrestrial habits put them in the path of predators more easily. They are also susceptible to lead poisoning from shot pellets that may be left on the ground in their range, particularly since many terrestrial birds are also game birds that are hunted regularly and careless hunting practices can leave debris that will impact remaining birds.

    Examples of terrestrial birds include grouse, quail, pheasants, roadrunners, emus, junglefowl, turkeys, partridges and guineafowl.


    terr-ESS-treee-uhl BERD

    Also Known As:

    Land Birds, Ground Birds