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?
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 general availability of different food sources. A robin’s typical diet consists of 40 percent insects and 60 percent fruits, with popular foods such as:
- Earthworms, insect larvae, grubs, caterpillars, and snails
- Spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, termites, crickets, and other insects
- Berries such as blueberries, mulberries, winterberries, juniper, honeysuckle, and holly
- Small tree fruits including cherries, crabapples, chokecherries, dogwood, and hawthorn
- Vine fruits including wild and domesticated grapes
In addition to these foods, American robins have also been recorded as eating eggs, small snakes, frogs, skinks, and small fish, depending on where they are foraging.
In spring and early summer, robins eat more mollusks and insects to provide adequate protein for nesting and 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.
What to Feed Robins in the Yard
Because American robins don’t eat many foods that are 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 naturally control pests
- 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, as well as 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 seed, 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 generous feeders, and because they may travel in flocks, it is best to have plenty of space for robins to visit. Ideally, 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 won’t regularly 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 not only robins’ favorite options, but also foods to attract many other birds as well.
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 the most popular and familiar birds throughout Europe. 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 just as attractive to European robins as they are to American robins, though it is best to choose plant varieties that are native to each birds’ range to attract and feed different robins.
Robins eat a wide variety of foods, and birders who are aware of these birds’ broad diets can more easily offer many different foods in their yard to attract and nurture robins all year long.