European Robins (Erithacus rubecula), are iconic garden birds and are common throughout Western Europe, though you can also find them in Eastern Europe and even some parts of Central Asia. These small birds are most famous for their redbreast plumage, hence they’re often called Robin Redbreasts in Great Britain. Brave and territorials, robins are often seen rummaging around the garden, so what do robins eat?
European robins are primarily insectivorous, meaning they consume mostly insects and other invertebrates. However, they’re flexible feeders and will happily consume small seeds, berries, grains, and other plant foods. In autumn and winter, robins top up their insect-rich diet with berries and grains, but otherwise, they prefer invertebrates.
A robin with an insect in its beak
The dietary staples of the European robin are ants, worms and beetles, which they feast upon throughout spring and summer. While robins eat smaller and softer seeds, they have softbills and won’t eat the harder seeds in most standard bird feeds. Instead, they need a softbill, songbird or thrush seed mix, which is widely available from garden centres and other retailers.
Robins are fearless birds that do not mind foraging near humans, and they’re frequently seen tagging along as people do some gardening or mow the lawn. This is because robins are on the lookout for any worms or insects that are disturbed or unearthed from the soil - an easy meal!
Read on to find out more about the diets and foraging behaviours of this famous and emblematic bird!
Robin with a beak full of insects and an earthworm
In the summer, robins dine almost solely on insects and invertebrates.
It’s worth noting that insects and invertebrates are not necessarily the same thing - insects consumed by robins include spiders, flies, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and various insect larvae and grubs.
Other invertebrate non-insect foods include millipedes, centipedes, earthworms and molluscs, such as slugs and snails.
Estimates suggest that some 60% to 80% of a robin’s summer diet consists of invertebrates. Studies in Spain, Germany and a handful of other European countries found that the European robin eats mainly ants and beetles.
Some of the insects and invertebrates robins consume in the summer include:
European Robin singing from a branch
In winter, insect populations decline rapidly, and the risk of frost makes worms and other terrestrial invertebrates harder to access.
During the winter, robins and numerous other birds have to up their consumption of berries, grains, smaller, softer seeds and other plant matter.
In summer, you’re more likely to see robins on the lawn or foraging in the garden. You’re more likely to see robins foraging from bird feeders or tables in winter.
In winter, robins increase their consumption of:
Robin on a feeder during the winter
At birth, baby robins weigh just over 5 grams and are naked and totally blind. For five days, both parents feed the chicks intensively, completing some 100 food trips every day. After that, the parents feed young chicks soft food like small worms, though some berries and fruits may be introduced into the diet after 5 to 10 days.
Robins forage from the ground and hedgerows. They prefer to take up a position on a low-lying perch some 1 to 3m from the ground, scanning the area for movement before swooping in to make a catch. They also skip and hop over short grass, investigating the surface of the soil for ants, beetles and worms.
Whilst terrestrial insects are their food of choice, robins do catch insects on the wing, too (whilst flying).
Robins follow pheasants and other larger terrestrial birds, hoping to catch any invertebrates disturbed by their passage through the undergrowth. This is the same tactic robins employ when following humans in the garden - they’re hoping that we’ll help them find an easy meal!
Robins aren’t generally afraid of being close to humans, which is why they’ll happily follow gardeners and nonchalantly perch near them.
Robin foraging on the ground in search of food
Robins are often defined as softbills birds, meaning they don’t possess the strong and hard bill required to consume hard-shelled seeds, nuts and other foods. As such, they prefer soft bird fees, which are sometimes called ‘softbill bird feeds’ in the shops. These are also suitable for thrushes, finches and other songbirds.
Wild robins will happily eat:
Robins are quite fond of mealworms
Robins tend to have two or three periods of feeding per day, in the morning, afternoon and just before sundown. In the winter, they also continue to feed through the late evening until around 8 or 9 at night.
This is pretty common amongst songbirds and thrushes - blackbirds can also feed until quite late at night.
Robins tend to feed for three periods a day when the days are shorter, and insect life is scarcer, from around December to February.
When they’re raising chicks, robins spend a large proportion of their day feeding. Both parents feed their young and can make 100 trips a day to and from the nest!
Like all birds, robins drink solely water and are avid visitors of garden bird baths during both winter and summer. In addition, Robins enjoy taking regular baths to clean their feathers.
Providing fresh water in your garden is an excellent way to attract more wild birds to your garden.
Robins frequently use bird baths for both drinking and cleaning
Robins have ravenous appetites in the breeding season especially, so if you want to attract them to your garden, it’s often as simple as providing them with a selection of bird foods.
Robins have softbills, so they prefer softer foods like oats, sunflower hearts, meaty scraps, suet and softer, smaller seeds.
Robins partake in courtship feeding too, which means that the males bring females food as a sign of their interest in mating with them and after they’ve paired up. Male robins can bring the female as much as 60% of their daily food requirements in the run-up to laying eggs.
This helps the female become strong and healthy ahead of laying eggs and brooding chicks. In addition, courtship feeding increases the odds of the robins raising a successful brood of chicks. By feeding the robins in your garden, you’ll help both them and their young!
A pair of robins
Robins prefer to feed from the ground rather than from bird feeders, but they’re not too fussy. Even so, you should always spread seeds and other bird foods on the ground to help attract ground-feeding birds.
You can also use a ground feeding tray that attracts ground-feeding birds, including robins.
Robins will also happily eat from a bird table. Overall, they’re not overly fussy about where they feed on, but they may avoid bird feeders if they’re hung too high or aren’t too easy to access.
Robins prefer softer bird foods, including grains, crushed nuts, sunflower hearts and smaller seeds. They also love mealworms and meaty dinner scraps.
Robins are omnivores, but they consume more invertebrates and insects than plant food. Around 60% to 80% of their diet consists of beetles, worms and ants, the remainder seeds, berries and other fruits.
Robins eat most fruits that they can grip with their small beaks. In the wild, they love holly berries, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries and crabapples. Robins will eat most kinds of fruits that you put out on a garden bird table, on the floor, or in a ground bird feeding device.
Robin redbreast eating fat balls from a bird feeder
Robins have soft bills and only eat smaller, softer varieties of seeds. Overall, they prefer grains, suet, mealworms, dried fruit and soft non-seed foods. However, they will still eat seeds if they’re small enough.
Sunflower seeds are too large for robins. They will, however, eat crushed sunflower hearts, which have had their husks removed to make them easier to digest.
Robins eat a wide variety of berries - as much as 20% of their diet consists of them.
Robin eating berries from a tree
Yes, robins are often depicted on holly bushes (as you might have noticed from Christmas cards!) However, this isn’t just some sort of stereotype - they do genuinely eat holly berries, which provide an excellent food source to birds throughout winter.
Yes, robins will peck at grapes and other vine fruits.
Robins will eat dried mealworms, but it’s better if the mealworms are broken up a bit first. It’s often recommended that you wet the mealworms with water to soften them up for softbill birds like robins.
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