Aerial, Terrestrial And Arboreal Birds

Although birds can be found all over the world in different habitats, some birds have evolved to live almost exclusively on the ground, in trees, or in the air.

Aerial Birds

Apart from the few birds that can’t fly, all birds spend time in the air, but a true aerial bird lives the majority of its life in flight. Aerial birds are able to feed, drink, sleep, mate and even sleep while on the wing with some unique characteristics that help them remain airborne.


Aerial birds catch their prey as they fly. It requires long wings and skillful flying and swifts are the masters of continuous, aerial feedings, spending hours in the air, flying high on rising air currents to catch small insects. Other birds that feed in the air include swallows, martins and nightjars.

Other primarily aerial birds include some seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and frigatebirds. The structure of their bodies and flying styles have often been studied by aeronautical engineers to help them design flying machines from aircraft to drones.

Terrestrial Birds

In contrast to aerial birds terrestrial birds spend much of their life on the ground, foraging for food such as seeds and grains, as well as nesting and sleeping. Terrestrial birds can be flightless or they can have short wings and bulky bodies which makes flying difficult.


Terrestrial birds will generally be heavily camouflaged to protect them from the increased risk of predation. They either don’t migrate or have short migratory ranges and their chicks will be precocial to allow them to leave the nest and fend for themselves soon after hatching.

When terrestrial birds fly they tend to stay close to the ground and will only fly a short distance, usually when alarmed or disturbed. Terrestrial birds usually have strong, powerful legs which allow them to outrun predators.

Examples of terrestrial birds include grouse, partridges, turkeys, pheasants and roadrunners.

Arboreal Birds

Arboreal birds spend most of their time in trees and dense foliage. They will perch and roost in trees as well as forage in holes and tree cavities looking for insects and seeds. They have diets that are adapted to forest environments so tend to be insectivorous or frugivorous.


Arboreal birds can be found all over the world in a variety of habitats including tropical jungles and coniferous forests as well as orchards, parks and gardens. They tend to have patterned plumage which helps camouflage them although many are also brightly coloured which means they can be an easy target for predators. Arboreal birds have feet and claws that have evolved to grip and climb trees and some have toes that have adapted to enable them climb down as well as up, such as nuthatches.

Other examples of arboreal birds include woodpeckers, tits, warblers, treecreepers, parrots, toucans and orioles. Unfortunately arboreal birds are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss with many species reliant on certain species of trees to survive.

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