This sounds like a bit of a silly question at first. Ground feeding birds – put some feed on the ground, right? Well, you can simply throw some food on the ground to cater for these birds. But you may run into problems. Attracting rats, exposing your birds to predators, and ending up with a cornfield where your lawn used to be, for example.
In this article, we look at some savvy strategies for keeping the ground feeders, which include some of our favourite garden birds, fat and happy.
How Best to Feed Ground Feeding Birds
Before we look at how best to cater to the ground feeders, let’s look at why some birds prefer to feed in this way and which birds fall into this group.
Why Do Some Birds Feed on The Ground?
Some of our garden birds prefer to feed on the ground because this is where they tend to find their food in the wild.
So many birds that eat worms, grubs, and insects are ground feeders.
Also, the granivorous birds, which typically feed on grains and seeds, naturally prefer to feed on the ground.
Many ground-feeding birds just aren’t equipped to feed, hanging at an acrobatic angle from branches or tree trunks. So this means that they will also find it difficult to eat from your hanging feeders.
Which Birds Are Ground Feeders?
A surprising number of our most popular garden birds prefer to feed on the ground.
The Thrush Family
Members of the thrush family are perhaps some of our most popular ground-feeding garden birds. These include Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Mistle and Song Thrushes.
These birds are omnivores, eating worms and other insects during the summer months and moving on to fruits, soft seeds and berries during the autumn and winter.
Pigeons and Collared Doves
In contrast to the thrushes, doves and pigeons are granivorous birds, eating mainly grains and hard-husked seeds. So although both groups of bird feed on the ground, what they eat is quite different.
Pheasants, grouse and quail used to be frequent visitors to our garden when we lived in open countryside. They are colourful birds with real personality, and although they do eat lots, we loved seeing them strutting around the garden.
Like pigeons and collared doves, the game birds are granivorous and will eat mainly grains and seeds.
If you have a large pond or are near a lake a river, you could well get visits from ducks, coots and other water birds.
It should be no surprise to find that ducks don’t get on well with hanging bird feeders.
Most water birds prefer to feed in the water, Ducks, coots, and swans mainly eat weed and other aquatic vegetation, But they will eat from the ground if offered food, preferring grains, greens, or even specialist duck and swan food.
There are lots of other popular garden birds who prefer to feed on the ground. These include:
As you can see, the ground feeding birds are a large group and will add loads of interest to your garden; they are well worth taking the time to feed.
Hazards of Putting Food Straight on the Ground
It is easy enough to throw a handful of food out onto the lawn or under the hedge to offer a meal to ground-feeding birds, and sometimes you may want to do this. But providing food on the ground has its drawbacks, and you may want to give these some consideration.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to putting bird food directly onto the ground can be the potential for attracting rats and other rodents.
If you place bird food directly on to the ground, especially on to the lawn, it can be very difficult to clean up any left-overs. And food left lying in the garden overnight can easily attract rats.
Sitting Target for Predators
Ground feeding birds provide easy prey for predators, especially cats.
This is a tricky one. Some people advise feeding well away from any cover that a cat could lurk in. But this provides a clear view of the feeding area from the air and could make your birds a target for birds of prey.
We’d suggest that if you plan to offer bird food at ground level, you try to keep your garden cat-free. We have a guide here.
And if you have your own cat, put a bell on it – undignified, I know, but at least it gives the birds a fighting chance.
Birdseed mixes obviously contain seeds, and these can easily take root and grow. Since many of the seeds, especially in the cheaper mixes you might use to feed pigeons, collared doves or game birds, are corn or wheat, these are not generally things you want growing through your lawn.
Mess and Wear and Tear
If you place bird food directly on to your grass, be prepared for things to get messy. Particularly when you are attracting bigger birds or large numbers, you will quickly find that your lawn develops bald patches where the birds are pecking and scratching to get at the feed and any other tasty morsels they may find in the area.
Better Ground Feeding Options
So although throwing bird food onto the ground for Blackbirds, Robins and other ground feeders is an option, you might want to look at different ways of keeping these garden stalwarts well fed.
A Bird Table
This sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but many ground-feeding birds will be perfectly happy eating off a bird table. After all, we have all seen blackbirds and robins taking berries from bushes.
The key is to choose a model where the feeding platform is not too high off the ground. Many of our smaller ground-feeding birds will be happy on a feeding platform that’s just 4 or 5 foot above ground level. So our Bath Universal Bird Table, for example, is a great option. Not so tall as to be daunting for the smaller ground feeders and open-sided to allow access for bigger birds.
If you prefer to have a taller bird table that is more of a garden feature, you can still cater to ground feeders with the addition of lower feeding platforms like these.
Offering food to ground-feeding birds on a bird table keeps mess off your lawn and provides some protection from rodents and predators.
The bird table is only a solution for the smaller birds, though; you are not going to catch a duck or a pheasant up there. And even small birds often prefer to be a little closer to the ground.
Buy a Ground Feeder
Given the huge range of ground-feeding birds that might visit our gardens, the range of ground feeders on offer is surprisingly small.
One very popular option is a ground feeding cage. These offer a small food tray in the middle domed cage. The idea is to let small birds in but keep larger birds and predators out.
Personally, I’m not that keen on ground feeding cages. They certainly keep larger birds out, but the bars are so tightly spaced that even some of the smaller customers think twice before venturing in.
The central food dish is so tiny that food is constantly spilling out, leaving you with cleanup to do.
And if, like us, you want to place your ground feeder under your hanging feeders to catch the spillage, these cage models are pretty useless.
But if keeping predators and larger birds at bay is an issue, then a cage ground feeder could be an option.
My preferred shop-bought ground feeders are these large wooden models. They don’t offer predator protection, but they are big enough for most birds to feed without spillage, big enough to catch food dropping from hanging feeders and very light and easy to move and clean. We currently have 4 of them in different places around the garden.
If you were looking for something similar, but a little more compact, this Peckish Ground Feeder could be a good option.
DIY Ground Feeder
If you don’t want to splash out on a shop-bought ground feeder, it’s easy enough to go for a DIY option.
Any large shallow dish will do. I’ve used a large plant pot saucer with a few holes in it for drainage; you could use a storage box lid, an old birdbath, or even a dustbin lid.
Anything big enough to allow the birds to feed, easy to move and clean, will do the job.
Ground Feeder Housekeeping.
Just like any other wildlife feeding station, a ground feeder needs to be properly taken care of to keep the creatures using it safe and healthy and keep your garden looking good.
- Only add enough food for one day. Food left to sit overnight or for longer can go mouldy or attract rodents.
- Remove any leftover food in the evenings.
- Clean feeders regularly. If you are lucky enough to attract a good number of birds, your feeders may get messy pretty quickly. Aim to give them a good scrub every week.
- Move feeders to allow your lawn to grow back. This will help to keep the feeding area clean and fresh too.
- Always offer a drink. Offering clean water alongside food is important to all birds, but it’s especially crucial for the granivorous birds like doves and pheasant, who get very little moisture from their food.
Keeping the Ground Feeders Happy
When we think of attracting birds to the garden, our first thought is probably to hang up a feeder.
But we’ve seen in this article that there are a whole host of garden favourites who won’t get any use out of a hanging feeder. And quite a few who won’t even be able to use your bird table.
So taking the time to set up a ground feeding station will add lots of enjoyment to your garden birdwatching and help support some of our best-loved native species.
Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Do you have questions or suggestions? We’d love to hear them: leave us a comment below.