Robins are the whole food aficionados of the bird world.
You can attract robins to your backyard by providing them with the whole foods that they savor in nature: berries, fruit, insects, and various kinds of creepy-crawlies.
You can attract large flocks of migrating robins by planting berry bushes that give them the sugar they need to refresh themselves after flying 100 to 200 miles a day.
You can keep a few robins in your backyard both winter and summer by providing them with a variety of sources of fat, protein, and sugar in their most natural form.
But you can’t attract robins with birdseed.
Robins are not fans of seed feeders. And it’s not easy to get them started coming to your backyard even with a fancy buffet of the bird foods they enjoy the most.
But with a little planning and some careful choices in backyard landscaping, you can make your home a have for these colorful songbirds.
How to Get Started Attracting Robins to Your Backyard
The way to get robins interested in food you provide for them is to give them a reliable source of clean water.
Water features are especially attractive to robins in the Western United States, more so in a time of drought. Water limits the ability of robins to stay in an area even more than food.
Water features can make your backyard a favorite “pit stop” for hundreds of robins every day as they fly north in the spring and south in the fall.
A single bird bath or wading pool might be visited by as many as 200 robins during their migration season.
They will drink more than they will bathe. And because they also poop, it’s a good idea to have water features that are easy to clean
Using Water Features to Bring Robins to Your Landscape
Robins are picky about the places they drink and bathe. Even when they are flying in large flocks, they don’t want to risk exposure to predators like hawks and cats.
They look for sources of water near places to perch and rest from long hours of flying. And they don’t stop for just any water feature.
Here are the most important things you can do to make your water feature more attractive to robins.
Keep the water no more than 2 inches (5 cm) deep
Robins don’t bathe in lakes, streams, or swimming pools. They look for puddles and tiny brooks and streams where the water is at most 2 inches (5 cm) deep, preferably less.
You will be able to entice robins to a deeper water feature if you put pebbles and small rocks in it so the water is shallow enough for them.
Keep it low
There aren’t a lot of water sources in nature that come on a pedestal.
Bird baths mounted on pedestals make it easier for humans to watch the birds that visit them, but robins don’t find them attractive.
Ideally, your water feature should be about a foot (30 cm) off the ground. That’s high enough to give robins a few milliseconds head start if they spot a cat or a raccoon stalking them.
It’s low enough that robins have a full field of view to stay on the lookout for threats from above and to the sides.
The only time it’s a good idea to use a pedestal birdbath is when you have a problem with snails and slugs. But the robins may eat them.
Give robins a place to perch
Robins don’t just need a foothold while they are in your water feature. They also need a safe platform to preen their wings when they get out.
A flat platform at least six inches (15 cm) wide for robins to congregate when they get out of the water is great for migrating robins.
In the summer, just placing a rod or a stick next to the water feature is enough. Robins will linger in your yard if you give them a perch.
Choosing a place for your water feature
Flocks of migrating robins at a water feature can be, well, messy.
You will want to recirculate water, maybe even filtering it, to keep the bird bath cleaner than it otherwise would be.
To run the pump, you may need to position the water feature near an outdoor electrical outlet.
You may also need an electrical outlet for a heater for your water feature in the winter. Only use outlets equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
The circuit interrupter stops electric shock from traveling through wet ground.
It’s also important not to place your water feature where it could encourage robins to fly into glass windows.
One study of collisions of birds with windows found that 62% of the fatalities were robins in their first year of life. Water features need to be right in front of windows, no more than 5 feet (1.5 m) away, or at least 15 feet (5 m) away from windows.
Robins coming for a landing from high-speed flight can’t stop fast enough if they try to land at a water feature between 5 and 15 feet away from a window.
Another important consideration in placement is making sure you have a line of sight from a window or a comfortable spot to sit outdoors to watch your birds.
It’s not just important for the robins to be able to see your water feature. You need to be able to see it, too.
Plant cover nearby
There are plastic and canvas covers for bird baths when you want to take a break from bird watching and keep the birds away.
But that’s not the kind of cover we are talking about.
Robins need cover for protection near the places where they drink water and eat food.
They need something to stop overhead predators from attacking them that they can reach in a fraction of a second when the predator is sighted.
There are several kinds of plants that give robins cover:
- Prickly evergreen shrubs give robins cover both winter and summer.
- Tall annual flowers give robins a place to hide, and they also provide nectar for hummingbirds and seeds for other kinds of songbirds.
- Dense cover plants give robins a fighting chance even when they encounter predators on ground level. Dense ground cover under a low water feature gives robins a place to hide, but plants growing up the side of a pedestal bird bath may serve as a ladder for cats.
Place your water feature in dappled shade
Dappled shade makes water sparkle and glisten as the wind moves branches and leaves.
Sparkling water is easier for robins to see than a glaring, flat pool of water. A little shade keeps water from evaporating as fast in hot weather.
It gives robins another layer of protection from predators.
Direct sun in the morning or late afternoon with shade in the middle of the day is also OK.
Use circulating water features
American robins are highly susceptible to West Nile Virus. Mosquitoes don’t breed in circulating water, which protects them from the virus (and you and your pets, too).
Moving water also attracts birds to your water feature. It sparkles in a way that birds find attractive. You will have a lot more robins visiting a moving-water birdbath than if the water is still.
You can keep the water in your birdbath moving by:
- Making sure your water feature has a large water basin and is attached to a circulating pump.
- Fastening a mister to a garden hose that mists part of your water feature.
- Keeping your bird bath full with a steady drip of water. But be aware that a steady drip can add significantly to your water bill. You will also need to put gravel at the base of your water feature so the ground won’t get soggy.
How to Feed Your Robins
Once you have attracted robins to your backyard with a water feature, then you can keep them in our backyard by feeding them regularly.
But you may prefer to offer a generous meal for a single mating pair in the summer rather than maintaining an all-you-can-eat buffet migrating robins in the spring and fall.
Robins enjoy peanuts. They don’t have to be in the shell. Even crushed, shelled peanuts will be a hit.
Just don’t put out roasted or salted peanuts, and use the same peanuts you would feel comfortable eating yourself.
Moldy peanuts may contain aflatoxin that can kill birds and make people sick.
You may be able to train robins to eat mealworms out of your hand. Start with live mealworms.
The robins will recognize them as food. Once your robins have become familiar with mealworms, you can try giving them the dried variety.
If you offer mealworms to the robins in your backyard at the same time every day, the robins will get to know and trust you.
After a few weeks of feeding them every day, they may feel comfortable enough to eat mealworms out of your hand.
Robins eat berries in nature. They have a taste for fruit. You can place berry-sized slices of banana, orange, apples, and grapes on a platform feeder for them to enjoy.
Remember to hang the platform feeder where it will be easy for you to see the robins as they eat. You may also be able to train them to eat fruit out of your hand.
If you are inundated with robins in your yard during migration season, chances are that there are already berry bushes nearby.
But if you just want to keep a few robins in your yard during the summer and winter, plant bayberries, pyracantha, crab apples, and grapes.
This combination will give robins a good supplement to their diet throughout the winter, assuming you don’t pick and eat all the fruit yourself!
Robins Love Vegetable Gardens
Another way to attract robins to your backyard is to plant a vegetable garden. Keep the soil well-composted and well-tilled so it becomes a good habitat for earthworms.
Robins will land on freshly tilled garden soil and test the ground with their feet, feeling vibrations of earthworms fleeing the newly turned soil.
They will stick their beaks beneath the ground to retrieve a fresh, fat, juicy worm for themselves or to feed their young.
In the summer, a robin can get about 40% of its calories from earthworms, grasshoppers, and other garden insects.
They can be very helpful in keeping insects in control so you don’t have to use pesticides.
Robins also eat beetles and their grubs under trees and in rotting trees. Letting robins do your pest control saves money and protects the environment.
Another way to feed robins is just to turn on your lawn sprinklers to give your grass a good soaking.
The moisture will drive earthworms to the surface, where robins can catch them in large numbers. This is especially helpful for nesting robins feeding their young.
Providing Nesting Sites for Robins
Robins can’t sleep when they feel trapped. They don’t do well in birdhouses.
As a result, when it’s time to find a nesting site, robins look for ledges.
They build their nests on ledges underneath rock outcroppings, at the edges of gutters and downspouts, and in utility boxes.
They look for a floor and roof but don’t want walls around their nest.
You can accommodate robins with a nesting shelf, rather than a nesting box or a birdhouse.
Tack a nesting shelf to the side of your house in a location that’s out of wind and rain.
The nesting shelf should be at least 3 feet (about a meter) above ground level. It can be as high as 15 feet (5 meters) off the ground.
Robins construct their nests from twigs, fine grass, and other soft materials. You can put out small strips of soft cloth and cotton balls to help the female build her nest.
The mother robin smears her nest with mud to keep all the soft materials together. Making sure she has a source of mud helps her build the nest and keeps her in the yard.
Robins are the rare birds who carry bodily waste out of their nests.
They are relatively sanitary birds while they are raising their young. But the female robin will build a new nest each time she lays eggs, which is usually about three times a year, between April and July.
She will need a new nesting shelf and new nest-building materials for each brood.
In nature, only about 25% of chicks survive their first year. The average lifespan of a robin is just two years.
But backyard bird watchers have been able to sustain robins to the age of 14 years with careful attention to their needs.
Other articles you may also like: