Near-ground maneuvers, such as hover, approach, and landing, are key elements of autonomy in unmanned aerial vehicles. Such maneuvers have been tackled conventionally by measuring or estimating the velocity and the height above the ground, often using ultrasonic or laser range finders. Near-ground maneuvers are naturally mastered by flying birds and insects because objects below may be of interest for food or shelter. These animals perform such maneuvers efficiently using only the available vision and vestibular sensory information. In this paper, the time-to-contact (tau) theory, which conceptualizes the visual strategy with which many species are believed to approach objects, is presented as a solution for relative ground distance control for unmanned aerial vehicles. The paper shows how such an approach can be visually guided without knowledge of height and velocity relative to the ground. A control scheme that implements the tau strategy is developed employing only visual information from a monocular camera and an inertial measurement unit. To achieve reliable visual information at a high rate, a novel filtering system is proposed to complement the control system. The proposed system is implemented onboard an experimental quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle and is shown to not only successfully land and approach ground, but also to enable the user to choose the dynamic characteristics of the approach. The methods presented in this paper are applicable to both aerial and space autonomous vehicles.