There are dozens of bird species called robins, but the relationship between these different birds is often less rooted in shared evolutionary history and more in passing resemblances. The two most prominent species are the European and American robins — but their relationship to one another is actually quite distant, and the closest connection between them is the fact that they both bear a bright orange patch on their chest. Despite that, these birds tend to have similar diets and employ similar tactics for both catching prey and eluding predators.
Both European and American robins are opportunistic omnivores who split their diet roughly between meat and vegetable matter and who adjust their intake of different food sources depending on the time of the year. The environments they live in usually consist of four distinct seasons, and they appear to adjust their diets based not just on availability but also on situational demand. Despite their physiological differences and different environments, both robin species have developed their own seasonal habits.
Spring and summer are months that are rich in protein-heavy meals, and both robin species make as much of that time as possible. American robins have as many as 100 different invertebrate species to feed on, and these range from earthworms and snails to millipedes and centipedes to termites and spiders. In the peak of spring, soft and hard invertebrates constitute as much as 90% or more of a robin’s diet with fruits representing 10% or less. In the winter, those numbers will flip completely.
Breeding behavior is situated around the feast and famine cycle of the typical robin. Eggs can begin to hatch between April and August, leaving most baby robins going through their most vulnerable and important growth phase when insects and invertebrates are most plentiful. Both mother and father will care for baby robins, which they feed on a diet of worms that they break down for easier digestion. These attentive parents will often feed their young as many as a hundred times in a single day.
What Do Robins Eat in the Winter?
That depends on the robin. Some American robins migrate south as far as Mexico and Central America in the winter, while some European robins will venture into the Mediterranean for warmer conditions. But most robins of both species stay within the same general habitat they occupy throughout the year. As many insects go into hibernation, robins are left with fewer food sources to draw from. Throughout the winter, wild berries will take up the majority of a robin’s diet.
This is all the time of year when you’re most likely to find robins at a feeder in the yard. They don’t have an appetite for most seeds, they will venture out in the yard for sunflower seeds. They’re also a fan of nuts, suet, and cultivated fruit. If food is particularly scarce, robins may abandon their normally territorial nature to gather in flocks. These flocks will then situate themselves around wooded areas with a high concentration of wild berries.
Robins eat a diet that includes:
- Small reptiles
- Cultivated fruits
- Wild berries
How Do Robins Hunt For Food?
Despite being prevalent throughout both the United States and Europe, robins aren’t all that common a sight in the yard or around feeders. That’s because humans often have little to offer them. Worms, snails, and other invertebrates can be hunted at low energy cost while providing high levels of protein intake — and that’s the value they won’t find in a traditional bird feeder. And while they’d much prefer meat over fruits, there is no lack of wild berries during the colder months.
For migrating robins, fruits offer the energy they need to cross long distances over the course of a few months. During mating and nesting season, foraging responsibilities will be split between both the male and female of a pairing — and robins will typically forage together in flocks once the chicks have left the nest. In pursuit of their preferred prey, robins have two great tools at their disposal: their eyes and their ears. Both senses are especially strong and are used in conjunction with one another. Robins forage on the ground, typically picking through leaves and other carpet detritus in search of bugs and invertebrates. They’ll tip their heads to the side until they hear movement and then zero in on the location with their precision eyesight. They’ll use both their beaks and their feet to dig away underneath themselves in pursuit of prey.
What Animals Eat Robins?
The trifecta of threats that most songbirds have to deal with is true for robins as well. Cats, snakes, and birds each offer their own challenge to European and American species. Hawks, shrikes, and owls are all large and terrifying predators in their own right, but even smaller birds like crows and blue jays can pose a threat to baby robins and to robin eggs.
Rat snakes rank among the most common and dangerous serpents to prey on robins. They’re exceptional climbers who can rely on their ability to sense chemicals to hunt. They’re also voracious predators who will clear a nest of eggs, chicks, and potentially even adults in one sitting.
But robins are most vulnerable when they’re on the ground. They typically hop across the ground while foraging for prey, and that leaves them vulnerable to domesticated pets like dogs and cats. Wild mammals present their own threat in the form of raccoons and foxes. The former is especially dangerous because of their proficiency at climbing.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What can I feed robins in my yard?
Robins are picky eaters who usually have abundant food in the wild. Moreover, they show little interest in many of the seeds that other birds feed on. The best way to lure them in is with fruit as bait. Raisins, apples, grapes, and strawberries will gather the attention of robins, especially in the winter. They’re also fond of suet.
What household food do robins like?
You can feed robins with the fruit right out of your fridge. Just keep in mind that these stubborn birds do their foraging on the ground and don’t have much experience with feeders. As a result, you might get the best results by simply leaving pieces of fruit on the ground.
Do robins eat fruit?
While robins will always choose a high protein food source like worms and beetles over fruit, options become significantly more limited in the winter. Over 90% of a robin’s diet in the colder months may consist of fruit — and they’re known to feed on both wild berries and cultivated crops like apples.