A Robin's Menu Through the Seasons

Reading Writing Selection

Reading and Writing Connections

Do you have any favorite foods that you can get only in summer? Are there other foods that appear on your plate mainly in winter? As seasons change, diets may also change — not just for people but also for robins and other animals.

A robin's changing diet is a sure sign of changing seasons. In spring and summer, robins forage mostly on the ground in places where the soil is rich and moist. That's where earthworms and insects thrive. In fall and winter robins feed on berries and other fruit. They find these foods on shrubs, trees, and vines of all kinds.

Robins eat animals 42 percent of the time and plants 58 percent of the time, say researchers Martin, Zim, and Nelson in their book American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits. So, what's on the menu for robins?

Animal Foods
You will probably be quick to list earthworms, caterpillars, and beetles among the animal foods robins eat. But robins also eat true bugs, flies, sowbugs, snails, spiders, termites, millipedes, and centipedes. And Robins sometimes eat animals that aren't usually part of their diet. Over the years, there have been many such reports. Robins have eaten trout fry in Massachusetts, marine invertebrates along a beach in Rhode Island, army worms in a Texas grainfield, flying termites in British Columbia, whole butterflies, and even a dead mouse and an 8-inch garter snake on Vancouver Island. Roland Wauer writes, "A snake may stick out of a robin's mouth until it is gradually digested and eventually disappears down the gullet."

Plant Foods
Plant foods like berries, other fruits, and seeds are a big part of a robin's diet. The most important plants that robins eat are in the rose family. Cherries and plums, which are members of the genus prunus, are in this group.

The plants robins eat vary according to location. Popular robin foods in the Northeast are cultivated and wild cherries, dogwood, sumac, and blackgum. In the Southeast, chinaberries and blackberries are most popular. Robins in Florida go for holly, palmetto, blackgum, chinaberries, and beautyberries. On the eastern prairies, robins chow down on hackberries, cultivated and wild grapes, and cultivated and wild cherries. The main plant foods for robins in the Intermountain West include cedar, hackberry, and Russian olive. Robins even eat the berries of poison ivy and poison oak. Bayberries, blackberries, blueberries, greenbrier, honeysuckle, juneberries, juniper, madrone, mountain ash, mulberry, pokeberry, pyracantha, raspberry, sassafras, serviceberry, spiceberry, sumac, viburnum, and woodbine — all are eaten by robins.

Next time you see a hungry robin, you'll know what season it is — wintering or breeding — by watching clues in the bird's feeding behavior and seeing what's on the menu.

Try This! Menu Maker
Write a Robin Restaurant Menu. Include appetizing descriptions for what's being served in the seasonal specials!
  • "Spring Special"
  • "Summer Special"
  • "Autumn Special"
  • "Winter Special"

National Science Education Standards

  • Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need air, water and food; plants require air, water, nutrients, and light.
  • The behavior of individual organisms is influenced by internal cues (such as hunger) and by external cues (such as a change in the environment).
  • All animals depend on plants. Some animals eat plants for food. Others eat animals that eat plants.
  • All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions in a constantly changing external environment.

Note: The Reading and Writing Connections for this activity also address a number of science standards.