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What Do Robins Eat in the Winter?
Robins are some of our most common spring and summer visitors here in the northeast, but come wintertime they disappear completely. Or do they?
Actually, robins have a choice: they can either migrate south to warmer climes, or they can fluff out their feathers and stay in the wind and cold of the northeast. They’ll often roost high in trees though, far away from where you can see them. And even with a bird feeder out, you’re unlikely to attract one.
Which may lead you to wonder: what do robins eat in the winter? Especially the ones who stay here?
Fruit is the most common food that robins eat in the winter. Robins love berries, but will also pick at larger fruits if they’re available. It’s estimated that fruit makes up about 40% of a robin’s total food intake in a full year. That percentage is significantly higher during winter.
A robin’s favorite berry snacks include blueberries, juniper, blackberries, raspberries, holly, mulberries, winterberries, strawberries, and honeysuckle. And that’s just to name a few! Planting a few of these in your yard and leaving them alone is one of the best ways to draw in robins in wintertime.
Tree fruits like apples and cherries, and vining fruit like grapes, also make excellent robin food. They really aren’t too picky – all fruits are high in calories and give the robins a boost on cold winter days. Plus, once the fruit freezes in its bush or tree, it will stay good for months.
For a practical way to attract robins, you can chop up apples and offer berries or raisins in an open outdoor area. Place them on the ground or in a wide tray – robins are large songbirds that have trouble eating from regularly sized feeders.
Insects and Worms
We always picture our robin friends out hopping around lawns and gardens, looking for a fresh earthworm to yank out of the ground. It makes sense: worms and insects make up the other 60% of a robin’s diet. In the spring and summertime, they like nothing better than to nibble on worms, grubs, and a variety of insects, including spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, and more.
Of course, in winter, there aren’t many insects or worms available, which is why they stick to fruit.
Robins can eat suet if they get hungry enough. They are especially interested during winter and early spring, when protein from insects and worms is hard to find.
To offer your robins suet, try attaching your suet cake cage to a flat surface, like a board or the ground, so that the robin can easily get to it.
If you have the ingredients, you can make your own suet. Make sure you use fruit and mealworms in your mix to have the best chance of attracting a robin.
Nuts and Seeds
While it’s not common, robins will try other foods in winter if they get hungry enough, such as nuts and seeds. Peanuts and sunflower hearts seem to be the most common ones they’ll nibble on.
If you try to offer them any, make sure the nuts and seeds are already shelled and easy to eat. Robins have a hard time cracking shells open.
And keep in mind that your bird feeder regulars, like juncos, blue jays, and starlings, are most likely going to get the nuts and seeds you set out long before a robin gets hungry enough to show interest.
Other Foods Robins Eat in Winter
Like most birds, there are no hard and fast rules to what robins will and won’t eat. When food is scarce, they’ll try just about anything. You might see one eating something in your compost pile or even nibbling on pieces of dog or cat food. Of course, these are unusual foods that aren’t very good for them, so you shouldn’t offer it to them on purpose.
One odd thing that you can safely feed them is all-natural grape jelly. Just stick with the jelly, though – no bread and peanut butter necessary!
Enjoy Watching Your Robins Eat this Winter!
Whether or not you choose to feed the little visitors you see flitting from treetop to treetop, you should now have a good idea of what robins eat in the winter. If you are wondering what to feed robins in the winter, consider chopping up some fruit, offering grape jelly, or purchasing mealworms. Suet or shelled birdseed may also work in a pinch.
Have fun feeding! Check out the list of northeast winter birds if you’re interested in identifying more of our feathered cold-weather friends.