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
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?
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."
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.
This! Menu Maker
a Robin Restaurant Menu. Include appetizing descriptions for what's being
served in the seasonal specials!
Science Education Standards
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.
The Reading and
Writing Connections for this activity also address a number of science