When you hear the word, “robin”, what comes to mind? Is it Batman’s younger sidekick, or perhaps the melodious songbird? The term robin has symbolized a number of meanings such as joy, success, renewal, and honor. Did you know that the European Robin is the national bird of Great Britain? It is also the state bird for Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin, making it a fan favorite in different parts of the globe. With such popularity, it is only instinctive for us to want to learn about the intricacies behind this small songbird, including their dieting habits. Do these preferences change depending on the location, or is there a commonality amongst the separate species of robin?
What Do Robins Eat?
Robins are found on every continent aside from Alaska, making them incredibly diverse. With such a wide range, they have adapted to live near humans. In fact, they are one of the least skittish species of bird other than the Pigeon or the Seagull. Robins are considered to be omnivorous, or an animal that preys upon both plants and other animals. Depending on the season, they typically forage for berries, fruits, seeds, and worms. They rely on their eyesight to find such meals, making them a candidate for diurnal habits where they choose to forage in the daytime. They also tend to defend their territories all year round, making it essential for them to find their food quickly. With an opportunistic dietary habit, the robin can find food in the most remote locations on this planet. In fact, this is imperative as they oftentimes have to face the challenges of ever-changing seasons.
Before diving into what they specifically prey upon, it is important to know what makes the robin so vastly distributed. Looking at their background will aid in these questions.
The robin is found in the family Turdidae or the true thrushes.
They are characterized as perching birds with a distribution that extends over most continents. Thrushes can be identified by their medium-sized bodies and spotted chests. When comparing the two, the robin is essentially a thrush that has a bright red chest. If you were to observe a juvenile robin, you would see spots located on the chest, reminding us that they are a member of the true thrushes.
There are many species of the robin, some of which belong to the subfamily Saxicolinae or “chat-thrushes”. These are considered to be Old World flycatchers, which mainly reside in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Each continent, aside from one, has its own unique species of the robin that either stays in one place or migrates during certain seasons.
To fully understand what a robin will consume, one must look at the various habitats as some will require a difference in meal preference.
What Do Robins Eat in the Wild?
Although robins can be found foraging a diverse category of items, this will change depending on where they live. Robins have little fear when it comes to human encroachment, making them able to find food out in the open. Certain species have had to adjust to these conditions, even taking advantage of such feeding opportunities.
The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is one of the most beloved songbird to be found in North America. They are quickly identified for their iconic orange or fox-red chests with gray or brown underparts. They also sport a white throat patch with a black head and tail. These birds are slender in appearance and are approximately 9 to 11 inches or 23 to 28 centimeters in length from head to tail.
They are found across the entire United States as well as Mexico and Canada. This species prefers woodland habitats and open farmlands, taking advantage of urbanization. It is common to see an American robin foraging on a lawn or bathing in a bird bath provided by humans.
This species typically preys upon an assortment of fruits, berries, earthworms, and insects. They are extremely opportunistic, consuming whatever is found within their local range. Protein-rich items such as worms and insects are typically found in the warmer months. Colder seasons generally force these robins to transition to fruits among which include raisins, cranberries, and currants.
The truest of robins is the European robin (Erithacus rubecula). This bird is found in the subfamily Saxicolinae, different from the other species found in the true thrushes. This species is considered to be more closely related to the chat-thrushes. They are smaller than the American robin, only measuring about 5 to 5.5 inches or 12 centimeters in length. Their physical characteristics include a brown head and back that is accompanied by an orange breast. The body is less slender, taking on a shorter shape.
It is found across Europe and the United Kingdom, stretching into parts of North Africa and Asia. They primarily dominate spruce woodlands, parks, and gardens.
The diet of the European robin is somewhat similar when compared to its American relative. In spring and summer, these birds will forage for invertebrates amongst the leaf litter. They tend to gravitate towards spiders, worms, and insects. Once the cold seasons hit, the European robin will use berries and fruit to satiate their appetite. These birds have also been known to take advantage of seeds placed outside by humans.
Compared to other species, the Rufous-collared robin (Turdus rufitorques) shares the same blackish head and body that exists in thrushes. The bright rufous pigmentation extends around the neck and breast, making it easy to spot. They are found in forested or wooded habitats around South America and Mexico.
This bird is found exclusively in the highlands of Middle America, meaning that it is an endemic species. With such a limited distribution, the Rufous-collared robin has had to adapt to a specific diet.
This bird has been rarely documented due to its elusive habitat range and behavior. The few observations recorded witnessed these robins feeding on insects found around the wooded areas. In addition to this protein, these birds have been known to eat various fruits that fall from the trees. These dieting habits are similar to their most closely related Turdidae member, the American robin.
The Indian robin (Saxicoloides fulicatus) is another individual belonging to the true robins. Unlike other species found in this classification, the Indian robin does not sport a red chest. Instead, they are mostly brown to black with an orange under tail. They can also be identified for their white shoulder stripes that are visible from afar.
As the name suggests, these birds are distributed around the Indian subcontinent, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. They tend to occupy a wide range of habitats that are arid, stony and mostly made of scrub. This makes them prey on a few different meals that differ from other robins.
Given their habitat, the Indian robin includes amphibians and reptiles into their diets. They tend to single out frogs and lizards for a successful meal option. These birds also eat a variety of insects. Interestingly, this species consumes little fruit. With such harsh habitats, protein helps them to thrive.
What Are Baby Robins Fed?
Baby robins are known as an altricial bird, meaning that they are born defenseless and dependent upon their parents. Robin fledglings take approximately 2 weeks to leave the nest, meaning that their parents must supply enough nutrition during maturation.
As with most animals, adult robins will regurgitate partially digested food into the baby’s mouth. After about 5 days, they are strong enough to start eating solids. Parent robins will first give their young earthworms, breaking them up into bits. Once they begin to show signs of swallowing successfully on their own, the older individuals will feed them whole worms along with insects. Robin parents are dedicated to raising their fledglings, often visiting the nest 100 times per day in order to properly feed their young.
What Should an Injured Robin Be Fed?
It is quite common to find an injured robin in your backyard. But what should you do in this scenario? Can you give them a worm and send them on their way?
The short answer is no. When discovering any injured animal, it is best to call your local animal control office. If it is a young bird, don’t try to feed it yourself as you may harm the individual. You can offer a few worms, but do not force feed the individual. In all honesty, keeping the animal warm is the best chance for survival.
How Much Does a Robin Eat in a Day?
In order to survive, robins must constantly forage and stay warm. This requires a near constant influx of fats, especially in the winter months. They achieve this by preying on a variety of fruits, berries, and carnivorous options. Fruit is often a great source of calories for a robin that is ever-moving. Worms and insects, however, provide the highest reward. The time in which it takes for a robin to find a tasty earthworm is little in comparison to the amount of protein obtained. When given the chance, these animals will consume worms over fruit any day.
Scientists have been curious about the dieting habits of robins for years. Their findings have uncovered a staggering realization involving how many worms they find in a day. With their obvious choice being an earthworm, scientists have found that a robin will ingest up to 14 feet of earthworms in a single day alone. On average, these dirt-dwellers grow to about 14 inches long or 360 millimeters. This makes for 12 whole earthworms per individual. For such a little bird, that is quite impressive.
Catching your food is one thing. If you can’t properly absorb the nutrients then you will not thrive successfully. When food is swallowed, it moves down to the crop, which acts as a potential holder for later use. This also allows for the food to be absorbed and digested slowly which is more effective.
The second part of the stomach, referred to as the gizzard, is the next step. This is where food items are broken down.
An interesting fact is that most songbirds have sand grains or rocks in their gizzards to aid in grinding up their food. The intestines allow the food to be digested and completely absorbed before leaving the animal through the vent.
What Do Robins Drink?
Water is an essential component in terms of survival. The robin will use just about any body of water to drink in. This can be through the use of ponds, mud puddles, melted snow, and lawn sprinklers. As with any living being, they will also absorb water through the prey that they ingest.
Fruits are a great source of liquid, meeting their requirements.
Robins don’t only rely on water for drinking. These birds are known for their attention to hygiene. The water sources mentioned above also supply a robin with the opportunity for a bath. The reason for such cleanliness is because it helps to attack parasites. It also aids in warmth during the cold winter months.
You might be thinking that a wet animal is a cold one, but that’s not the case here. Baths, even in the midst of a cold winter, are essential because they keep the feathers clean. Without the proper cleaning, these feathers fail to insulate the bird properly.
The next time that you see a robin hopping around your wet lawn, know that they are using it to bathe themselves and get their daily intake of water.
Where Did the Name “Robin” Come From?
You might be wondering where this name originated. The name first given by English settlers in the sixteenth century was the “robin redbreast”. Of course, the second word in the name is self-explanatory, but why “robin”? To be honest, historians and biologists still can’t conjure up a good reason.
We do know, however, that the American robin was discovered by settlers in the New World. Being similar to the Robin redbreast, they decided to name that animal the American robin. Eventually, the European species was given the name “Robin”, without the added word on the end.
What Predators Do Robins Have?
Being lower on the food chain, these songbirds are preyed upon by a wide diversity of other animals. The bird species that consume adults and eggs include blue jays, crows, ravens, and hawks. As for mammalian species, it is common to see them threatened by squirrels, rodents, foxes, raccoons, and domesticated cats. Robins also have to keep a close lookout for large snakes while foraging on the forest floor.
One such way that you can protect the local robins from your outdoor cat is to place a bell onto their collar. This will ensure that the bird hears your cat long before he or she pounces.
What is the Status of the Robin?
Most species of robins are actually thriving, being listed as Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list. This is in large part due to the Migratory Bird Act that was established in 1918. This federal law enforced protection among birds that migrate between the United States and Great Britain.
The American robin were once considered a delicacy, being killed for their meat. They were also used to adorn women’s hats during the latter half of the Victorian era. With the Migratory Bird Treaty in place, these birds could no longer be killed for sport, or fashion.
From Robin to Puffin
In those colder months, you may see a bird that is identical in color to the robin, but that lacks the slender body. Surprisingly enough, this is a robin. During the winter, this bird is known to fluff up in an attempt to stay warm. They even cover their feet from the harsh snow. This behavior has helped them survive snowstorms, blizzards, and temperatures as cold as 30 degrees below zero.
A good portion of robins migrate during the autumn so as to escape the cold weather, but a number of them stay behind. Another way in which they keep warm is to gather in large flocks. You might see these same adaptations used in penguins. Body heat can help an animal survive. The robin utilizes this and its puffed-up feathers to stay warm.
The robin is an incredible bird known for its vibrant breast and melodious, cheerful tunes. These birds are found nearly all around the world with differing habitats. With such separate biomes, they have been able to adapt to their own unique meal preferences, some even choosing to consume lizards or frogs. The robin, regardless of species, is a bird that symbolizes new beginnings and contentment, giving anyone they run into a sign of hope.