What Do Robins Eat? Attracting Robins to Your Yard
Robins are familiar feathered visitors, but even though they are one of the most common backyard birds, they don’t often visit bird feeders. So what do robins eat, and how can birders provide nutritious and attractive foods for robins? The best food to feed robins is worms and beetles, but they enjoy much more than that. Read on to find out how to set out a delectable feast for these friendly redbreasts.
Natural Foods for Robins
American robins are widespread thrushes, closely related to bluebirds, hermit thrushes, wood thrushes, and Townsend’s solitaires. Like most other thrushes, robins are omnivorous and have a wide-ranging, opportunistic diet that changes with the seasons, habitat, and availability of different food sources. A robin’s typical diet consists of 60 percent fruits and 40 percent invertebrates like worms, insects, and spiders.
Invertebrates—Insects, Spiders, Worms, Snails
Spring and summer are the best seasons for hunting invertebrates. Robins have sharp eyesight for hunting from flight or while perched and have excellent hearing. They can see worms on the ground, near tunnels, and can hear them digging underground or bugs moving about.
Robins eat a lot of invertebrates, such as earthworms, centipedes, and millipedes; they also like insects, including flies, beetles, caterpillars, termites, crickets, and grasshoppers. They particularly enjoy insect larvae like mealworms and grubs.
Snails and spiders are not insects—but robins include them in their diet. Snails are shelled creatures from the gastropod class, while spiders are in the arachnid family.
Since most invertebrates enter dormancy in the cooler temperatures of fall and winter, robin diets mainly consist of fruits and berries in colder months. They’ll eat fruits in summer too, but become most reliant on them in winter. They won’t eat birdseed but will happily munch on berries in bushes, such as blueberries, mulberries, winterberries, juniper, honeysuckle, and holly.
They also like small tree fruits, including cherries, crabapples, chokecherries, dogwood, hawthorn, and vine fruits like grapes.
Reptiles, Fish, and Amphibians
Robins are opportunistic feeders, especially when food is scarce. Rare robin foods include eggs, small snakes, frogs, skinks, and small fish.
Seasonal Diets for Robins
In spring and early summer, robins eat more mollusks and insects to provide adequate calcium for egg formation and protein for feeding hungry hatchlings. In late summer and fall, berries and fruits are more abundant. In winter, robins will eat whatever foods they can find, which often includes leftover fruits and berries still hanging on plants, or else the birds will migrate to where food sources are more readily available.
The time of day when a robin eats has also been noted as affecting the bird’s diet. Earlier in the day, when the ground is still wet, these birds find more worms and grubs. Later in the day, robins eat more berries and fruits.
How to Feed Robins in Your Garden
Because American robins don’t eat many foods common in feeders, providing natural food sources is the best way to attract these birds with tasty treats. In addition to basic bird-friendly landscaping, consider options such as:
- Use berry-producing juniper hedges for a fence or privacy barrier
- Plant crabapple or cherry trees for their beautiful spring blossoms and abundant fruit
- Add a grapevine along a fence to cover the structure and provide a food source
- Use bird-friendly mulch or leave leaf litter intact for foraging robins
- Plant holly bushes in landscaping beds or underneath trees
- Reduce insecticide use to encourage birds to control pests naturally
- Water the lawn in the early morning to bring earthworms to the surface
- Keep grass mowed shorter to allow robins to forage more easily
These few steps can provide a bountiful natural feast for robins, but with the right foods, they will also visit feeders. Provide chunks of fruit, such as apples and pears, and softened raisins or cranberries for the birds to sample. Suet chunks, nuggets, or shreds can also tempt American robins, and they will sample peanut hearts, hulled sunflower seeds, mealworms, and jelly.
Use broad, open tray, platform, or dish feeders to accommodate robins at feeding stations. Because these are larger birds, they are more comfortable at larger feeders, and because they may travel in flocks, it is best to have plenty of space for robins to visit. Feeders should be placed on or near the ground, as these birds are more comfortable foraging on the ground. For a fun option, try a bird feeder garland on trees or shrubs where robins are used to feeding, and they will happily enjoy the decorative treat.
What American Robins Won’t Eat
While there are many things robins will sample in the yard, it is equally important to note what foods they won’t eat. American robins do not eat many seeds and rarely visit feeders offering Nyjer seed, hummingbird nectar, mixed birdseed, cracked corn, safflower seed, or whole peanuts. They may initially try these foods but aren’t likely to return and be frequent guests if other foods are available. Of course, birders who offer a wide range of foods can supply robins’ favorite options and foods to attract many other birds.
A Note About the European Robin
While the American robin is one of the most popular and familiar birds in North America, it must be noted that the European robin is also one of Europe’s most popular and familiar birds. While the European robin is not a thrush and is not closely related to the American robin, it does share similar dietary preferences. The same types of natural foods, including worms, insects, fruit, and berries, will be as attractive to European robins as they are to American robins. However, it is best to choose plant varieties native to each bird’s range to attract and feed different robins.
Robins eat a wide variety of foods, and birders aware of these birds’ broad diets can more easily offer many different foods in their yards to attract and nurture robins all year long.