The robin is an iconic bird, associated with both the cheer and new life cycles of spring and with winter festivities.
Amongst the scientific community, the American robin might be referred to by its binomial nomenclature: Turdidae migratorius. However, to the rest of us, this beautiful species is more commonly known simply as the robin, or red robin, due to its vivid breast plumage.
While the mature American robin is a fairly common sight year-round, it’s much more of a rare occurrence to see a baby robin. That’s because baby robins are very fragile as newborns and rely entirely on their parents to feed them and keep them safe until about 14 or 16 weeks of age, at which point, they become fledglings.
Because they’re rarely seen outside of their nests, the baby robin’s diet remains a mystery to many nature-lovers.
In today’s article, we will be answering the question ‘what do baby robins eat?’ and breaking down the typical baby robin’s diet across the first few weeks post-hatching. Plus, we have all the information you need regarding interacting with and caring for baby robins if necessary, so be sure to stick around!
The Newborn Robin’s Diet
When a baby robin is in the earliest stages of its life, it can be referred to as a newborn robin. The newborn period refers to the first week after the baby robin hatches from its egg.
During this time, hatchling robins rely entirely on their parents to meet their nutritional needs. In fact, the parent robins are totally responsible for taking care of the hatchlings in every way because they are completely unable to fend for themselves when they’re born. The proper term for this state of being is ‘altricial’.
You might think that being so small and helpless, baby robins might have small appetites. However, the complete opposite is true. Baby robins go from tiny, defenseless hatchlings to fairly robust fledglings in a matter of a couple of weeks, and part of the reason for this is that they’re incredibly demanding from day one in terms of feeding.
During their first days, baby robins will eat food regurgitated directly into their mouths by their parents. This might sound unpleasant, but it’s a really important part of the feeding process because hatchling robins aren’t ready for solid food during the first few days.
So, what exactly does a newborn robin eat? Well, baby robins get to enjoy a lot of variety in terms of their early diet because they are omnivores, which means they benefit from nutrients in both animal and plant-based food sources.
Common dietary staples for newborn robins include worms (both earthworms and mealworms), small insects, berries, and other pieces of fruit.
Newborn Robin Feeding Frequency
We’ve mentioned that newborn robins are demanding, but the frequency with which they need to be fed might surprise you!
The average parent robin makes anywhere between 100 and 150 return trips to and from the nest each day during the first week post-hatching. That amounts to a trip roughly every 10 minutes!
Bearing this in mind, it’s no wonder that baby robins grow so quickly!
The Baby Robin’s Diet: Week 2
The baby robin’s diet changes slightly once they enter their second week of life.
At this point, the baby robin is still completely dependent on its parents because it isn’t physically strong enough to leave the nest yet.
However, by this life stage, baby robins can open their eyes (this happens around day 5) and don’t need to rely on hearing and feeling their parents’ movements to know when it’s time to eat. Given that these important developments have happened by week 2, it’s understandable that their dietary needs also shift a little at this time.
After just a week, baby robins should already be significantly larger than they were at the time of hatching. Usually, this means that they are ready to start eating pieces of solid food by week 2.
Although a week-old baby robin won’t be able to manage an entire earthworm, for example, its parents will break down full-sized earthworms into bite-sized chunks for their babies to eat.
Earthworms are one of the robin’s main sources of protein, which is essential for growth, so worms are a really important part of the baby robin’s early diet.
Aside from the shift from liquid to solid food, the baby robin’s diet remains mostly the same, consisting of worms, insects, berries, and fruit.
The Baby Robin’s Diet: Week 3
By the beginning of week 3 (day 15), baby robins are called fledglings rather than hatchlings, and they are ready to start learning how to fly.
However, it typically takes a few days for fledgling robins to get the hang of flying and start to gain real independence. Therefore, the parent robins will continue to take care of their babies’ feeding needs into week 3.
At this stage in their development, fledglings don’t need food directly fed to them anymore, but since it’s still difficult for them to leave the nest, the parent robins will leave food inside the nest and let the babies help themselves.
This is a crucial step in the birds’ maturation because searching for food in the nest teaches them how to forage.
Finding A Baby Robin: What Should You Do?
When you’re out and about in nature, you might come across a baby robin, either on its own or with its siblings. If you can’t see their mother, you might wonder whether there’s anything you can or should do to help.
The answer to this question ultimately depends on several factors, including the age of the baby bird and how long they have been on their own.
In the following section, we’ll be covering three different types of situations involving a lone baby robin, and explaining how to assess each set of circumstances and respond appropriately.
Remember, even the best of intentions can have detrimental consequences if you don’t have the relevant information, so it’s very important to learn how and when to interact with baby robins before taking any action.
The Orphaned Baby Robin
An orphaned baby bird is probably one of the saddest sights to see, but if you come across a baby robin or a nest of baby robins that seem to have been abandoned, it’s important to stay as rational as possible.
First, you need to determine whether the baby robin or robins have actually been orphaned. While your instinct might be to take immediate action to help these defenseless baby birds, it’s best to simply play the waiting game at first.
Of course, this is easier to do if the nest is somewhere like your garden. Try to wait for a few hours and see if the mother robin returns.
If there is no sign of the mother or father robin within the next few hours, it’s unlikely that they will be coming back. Parent robins don’t tend to leave their nests for very long, and if they do, it’s usually because of contact with a predator (or human) or because they are lost and can’t find their nest.
If you found the nest on the floor, you can be even more certain that the parent birds won’t be returning since robins usually can’t locate their nests once they have fallen onto the ground.
Now that you’ve ensured that the baby robin has definitely been abandoned, it’s time to take action.
If you don’t feel that you can care for the baby robin(s) yourself, you have the option of handing them over to your local animal rescue organization.
However, if the baby or babies are healthy and don’t seem to be in any immediate danger, there’s no reason why you can’t take over their care yourself if you want to.
The main thing you’ll need to do is keep up the baby robin’s feeding schedule. Assuming the abandoned robin is still a newborn, you’ll need some kind of feeding instrument (a syringe, pipette, or eyedropper) to drop food directly into its beak.
You can purchase a suitable food formula for baby birds from your local pet store or through an online retailer. Alternatively, baby robins are able to digest and derive nutrients from baby formula.
To maintain the most natural feeding schedule possible, you should watch for signs that your baby robin is hungry and base your routine around its needs.
When hungry, baby robins will open their mouths in expectation, which is a fairly clear sign. They’ll also close their beaks when they’ve eaten their fill, so don’t try and force them to eat more than they need.
As the baby bird gets older, you can start to feed it chunks of food. You can use your hands for this, but make sure they’re clean and gently use the tip of your finger to introduce food into the bird’s mouth.
The Fallen Baby Robin
Another potential situation you might encounter is a baby robin that seems to have fallen from its nest. Again, this can be a distressing sight to witness, but try to stay calm.
First, make sure that the baby robin is a nestling and not a fledgling. You can distinguish between nestlings and fledglings. Fledglings have more developed feathers, whereas nestlings will either be featherless if they are newborns or have very downy, light feathers if they’re slightly older.
If the baby bird does not appear to be injured, the next step is to try and locate its nest.
Usually, finding a hatchling or nestling outside its nest indicates that it has fallen or inadvertently been pushed out of the nest.
The parent birds are unlikely to be able to find their lost baby in this case, and the nestling won’t have the eyesight or flying ability to find its way home. In most cases, though, the nest will be nearby, and you might be able to spot it.
The general rule regarding baby birds is not to touch them because you might transfer your human scent to the bird, causing the parents to reject it. However, this isn’t as much of a concern with robins because they’re not particularly reliant on their sense of smell, despite it being quite well developed.
Therefore, if you do come across a fallen nestling, you can pick it up and return it to its nest without worrying about interfering with its parental bond.
With that being said, you might not always be able to find the nest, in which case, the next best thing is to create one. Get a container such as a Tupperware box and fill it with dry leaves or straw.
Place the baby bird inside and leave the nest somewhere secure and as high up as possible in a nearby tree. This will make it more likely that the parents will see or hear their baby and come to the rescue.
If, after an hour, the parents haven’t returned, you’ll need to either call your local animal rescue center or commit to caring for the bird yourself since it won’t be able to survive on its own at this stage.
The Fledgling Baby Robin
We mentioned the importance of distinguishing between nestling and fledgling robins earlier. That’s because you should NOT physically interact with a fledgling robin if you find one on its own.
Fledgling robins are in the process of learning how to be independent. Sometimes, that means that they’ll end up outside their nests, and even on the ground when flying attempts are unsuccessful. This is totally normal and part of their developmental journey.
Although you might have only good intentions when stepping in to help a fledgling robin, it’s likely that their parents are close by and you could actually disrupt the learning process by doing so.
The only time you should get involved with a fledgling robin is if the bird is injured, in which case, your local wildlife rescue service should be your first port of call.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Color Are Baby Robins?
If you’re not an avid bird watcher, you might struggle to figure out what type of baby bird you’ve come across. After all, the baby robin, like most baby birds, is born without feathers and is almost entirely pink.
When baby robins do develop feathers, they are brown and speckled.
Why Do Robins Abandon Their Babies?
Robins are typically very dedicated parents, so abandonment is not expected from this species. However, there are certain extreme circumstances when a robin might leave its babies behind.
If the nest has been threatened by a predator, or other disturbances have demonstrated to the mother robin that the young have a poor chance of survival, she might take flight and not return. However, this is still much less likely with robins than many other bird species.
In summary, baby robins survive on a diet of worms, insects, fruit, and berries. At first, this diet is fed directly to the nestlings by the parent birds, in liquid form.
After the first few days, the parents begin to feed the baby birds solid chunks of the same foods before finally leaving the food in the nest for the (now fledgling) babies to find.