What Do Robins Eat in Winter?

Winter is an important feeding time for robins. Food is more important than shelter. Why? Food fuels the robin's metabolism, giving it the fat and energy to feed, move, stay warm and survive. What are their winter foods? The photo shows one example. Read on for more!

Photo Chris Earley

A Robin's Favorite Winter Foods
In winter robins concentrate on berry bushes, trees and vines, like the bittersweet vine above. (On warm days, though, you might spot a robin running on lawns, searching for worms!) Winter robins eat berries, other fruits, and seeds they find on shrubs, trees, and vines. If robins happen to overwinter near you, you can offer them frozen or fresh fruit. They'll go for apple slices, raisins, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cherries.

Birdseed? No Thanks!
Did you ever wonder why it's hard to attract robins to a bird feeder? Most robins have simply never eaten at a feeder before, so they lack the experience to know what feeders are for. And even the hungriest robin would never eat birdseed.

During autumn, robins have so much natural food available that they don't need handouts. But robins overwintering in northern states and provinces are becoming more and more common. (Two reasons: Because the whole North American population of robins is increasing, and because on average, winters are becoming milder.) Your birdfeeders can help the robins that remain in the north instead of taking the Journey South! Robins like invertebrates, such as worms and insects. Where will you get them in winter? Mealworms (the larvae of a plain black beetle) are the best choice, and they're easy to find. You can buy mealworms at pet stores or on the Internet.

What About Water?
Birds need to drink, and if possible, bathe even in the winter. (Dirty feathers lose much of their insulating properties, so a clean bird is a warm bird.) On pleasant days, birds will appreciate a bowl of water more than the finest food. You may notice that robins are usually found where at least a trickle of open water is available. Finding water can be a challenge. Our winter birds conserve body water and survive with much less, says bird expert Laura Erickson. Yet when the water supply freezes up for the season, birds usually have no choice but to eat snow to replenish fluids. Even though winter birds can survive long periods without drinking, we help them by setting out water whenever the temperature is above 10 degrees (F). When it's colder than that, the steam given off by freezing water could coat feathers with ice, and the bird couldn't fly.

Moving On
Winter robins go where food is. They stay until it’s gone. Then they move on, in search of more. It's good to know what robins eat in winter!

Try This: Journal Question
  • Why is winter a very important feeding time for robins? What advantages can you think of for a male to be well-fed and healthy when it comes time for spring migration? For a female?