What Do American Robins Eat in the Winter?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Regarded by many as 'the first sign of spring', people are often surprised to learn that many American Robins do not migrate south for the winter. Instead, they adapt to the shifting weather. We are all used to seeing robins eat worms throughout spring and summer, the next question we typically get is 'what do robins eat in the winter?' 

American Robin eating BirdBerry jelly in winter. Photo by Leanne Leblanc. 

In short, robins shift their behaviour, including foraging and eating habits, to survive cold winters without access to worms hidden beneath frozen ground. To briefly learn a bit more about why robins may stay, here is an excerpt from our full blog on the topic, Winter Robins: Why They Stay and How to Help Them, which you can read in full here. 

The wintering range of the American Robin is largely affected by weather and food supply. Most birds can survive frigid temperatures as long as they have a reliable source of food, and in this area our native fruit-bearing plants typically have a bounty available for robins to eat throughout the winter. Robins maintain a body temperature of about 104℉ no matter the temperature outside. In the winter they generate body heat by shivering, and maintain their warm temperature by fluffing their feathers which acts as a shield from blowing wind and snow. All of this temperature regulation takes a lot of energy, which they get from their food. Studies suggest that more robins over-winter here than we may realize, and rather than migrating, they simply change their behaviour. In the winter months robins are non-territorial and will gather in nomadic flocks to feast on berries, while in the spring the flocks will disband to seek out and claim suitable nesting territory. 

Due to their shift to surviving mostly on fruit as opposed to insects, providing native fruit bearing plants (think chokecherries, mountain ash, or staghorn sumac) in your yard is a huge help for overwintering robins. 

American Robin at heated bird bath. Photo by Leanne Leblanc. 

Additionally, you can provide:

  • Live Mealworms: The perfect food to offer to a normally worm-eating bird. They pack a punch of protein and are high in calories, giving them extra energy to keep their bodies warm.  You can offer mealworms in a universal mealworm tray, which works well with many of our feeders. You can also use a  feeder like our Spiral Treat Tray, or even a Window Feeder for close viewing opportunities. 
  • BirdBerry Jelly: Our BirdBerry jelly is specifically formulated to attract fruit-eating species and is well loved by Robins year-round. BirdBerry Jelly can be offered in a low dish, a window feeder, a cup feeder like our Spiral Treat Tray or APS Fruit Feeder Branch Perch.
Both of the above items can freeze in the winter. Birds will still eat frozen mealworms. For jelly, as temperatures drop, you can sub for dehydrated fruit like raisins instead or small berries such as blueberries. Feeding at the same time every day can help birds get on a schedule, as well as whistling or ringing a bell prior to each feeding can help get them accustomed.
  • Bark Butter: Like many other species, particularly those that may not regularly visit feeders, Robins love Bark Butter.  Try spreading on tree trunks, lower to the ground where you may usually see a robin foraging. It's good to start early in the season to get them used to this too! Robins also enjoy Bark Butter Bits, or Bugs & Bits which include dried mealworms. Try offering in a spiral tray feeder or a window feeder. 
  • Suet: High-quality suet is a great option. Robins will eat suet in the winter, opt for fruit and bug forward mixes such as our Bug, Nut & Berry Cylinder. 
  • Heated bird bath: although this isn't food, open water is extremely important for all birds during winter, and can help attract robins to your yard. To learn more about heated bird baths, read our full blog on the topic here. 

We hope this answered your burning questions about what robins eat in the winter! Try offering a variety of the above options and see if you attract any winter robins. 

As always - tag us in your photos we would love to see them. 



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