Birds Who Nest IN the Ground

Birds Who Nest IN the Ground

Some birds don’t just nest on the ground, they nest IN the ground!

Why do they do this? Sometimes they can’t fly. Or maybe they can, but they tend to live in places with few trees. Or maybe they’re like hobbits, and they think a hole in the ground is just dandy and means comfort. Take a look at some of the world’s wonderful creatures.

Burrowing owl next to its burrow in Florida. By Dino Kanlic, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Above we see a burrowing owl. Burrowing owls do exactly what their name says; despite being able to fly, they live in burrows. They are also active during the day, although they may avoid the heat at mid-day. They tend to live in abandoned prairie dog burrows, which can be a problem for them when humans are trying to control eradicate prairie dogs. However, I did see one photo claiming that a burrowing owl had adapted to living in a pipe, which I guess would work if the pipe didn’t have water in it. And why have burrowing owls adapted to life on the ground? Well, in some parts of the Americas, there just aren’t that many trees. That’s where you find burrowing owls: in North and South America.

Kingfisher on eggs in a burrow.

Many bird species belong to the kingfisher family; various kingfishers live on all continents except Antarctica. Many, many of them nest in deep burrows made in riverbanks. Above we see a kingfisher incubating some eggs – at least for some species, the males and females take turns.

Making a vertical wall by the river for kingfisher burrows. Natuurpunt Waasland Noord 

Above we see a group of humans making a riverbank more hospitable for kingfishers, by creating a low vertical mud wall, ideal for making a kingfisher burrow. This was in the Netherlands.

Tufted puffin coming out of its burrow, Kuril Islands. By Eliezg, Wikipedia, GNU Free documentation license

Far in the northern Pacific, usually on islands to avoid predation, tufted puffins make their nests in burrows of dirt and grass. They dig these out themselves and then the male and female work together to incubate a single egg. Tufted puffins will sometimes nest in cliffs as well.

Sand martin nest with egg in a sandy burrow. By Axel Strauss, Wikipedia, GNU Free documentation license

Above we have a picture from a very different habitat: a sandy burrow, used by a sand martin. The pictures above and below come from Europe, but sand martins are found in a lot of the world. And in case you want to see a sand martin, here is one in flight:

Sand martin flying over Fife, Scotland. By Nigel Wedge, Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Now let’s move to another type of sandy burrow, used by the crab plover.

Crab plover. Photo from the Reconyx Camera showing an adult Crab Plover feeding a crab to its chick just outside the nest burrow. On the right a numbered plastic spoon marks another burrow.  See Research Gate.

Crab plovers live and breed in nest burrows along coasts near the Indian Ocean. Because the sandy burrows are warm from the sun and the position on the planet, crab plovers don’t have to spend as much time bothering with incubation. However, they still take their parental duties seriously, and feed their young – crabs, of course.

Amazonian motmot by Paulo Antonio Santos, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia didn’t have much about the Amazonian motmot, a cousin of the kingfisher, but the site confirms the birds breed in deep burrows in river banks. Besides, I couldn’t resist including such a beautiful bird.

Adult Kea in New Zealand, by Mark Whatmough. Wikimedia Commons.

Kea are parrots endemic to New Zealand. They also live in burrows. Unfortunately for them, their numbers as humans believed they were bothering sheep. Kea are now protected, and their numbers have improved. They are full of curiosity.

Certainly there are more birds that burrow, but above we have seven examples to give you a glimpse of the variety. They seem to do it on every continent besides Antarctica. Thanks for being here and taking joy in the diversity of life.

From the first book in the Crow Nickel series: She was the Great Mother Bird of all of us. She knew that her large, beautiful land, her home, was breaking apart and that the new smaller lands could be very different from the place she called home. In her wisdom she let her many chicks — she thought of them as chicks, even though many were grown — come to her in breeding pairs, to choose which gifts they wanted in order to survive. Hunters of the Feather, by Victoria Grossack

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