WHAT ARE MEALWORMS?
Mealworms are not really a worm at all. They are a larval form of a flightless insect called a darkling beetle. They are golden-brown, dry-skinned larva about 1 to 1 ½ inches in length and are safe and easy to maintain at home. Mealworms are a nutritious snack for many birds. They first gained popularity in the bird feeding world with folks who hosted nesting bluebirds and have since become a staple for bird-feeding enthusiasts, especially during nesting season.
Mealworms can be offered as live insects or in dried or roasted forms. The live insects are much preferred as their movements will help attract hungry birds, but birds at feeders will eventually discover dried mealworms as well. Live mealworms can be kept dormant and last 30 to 45 days and require some maintenance. Freeze-dried or roasted mealworms require no maintenance and can be stored indefinitely
WHAT BIRDS EAT MEALWORMS?
Most of our urban songbirds are at least partially insectivorous, especially when feeding nestlings! Birds that are likely to take mealworms from a feeder include: Song Sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, towhees, juncos, jays, woodpeckers, Varied Thrush and, of course bluebirds! American Robins and Hermit Thrushes do not typically visit feeders, but will readily take them from the ground and, may even frequent an open tray feeder if they learn it offers this food source regularly.
So many birds will gobble up mealworms (particularly the live mealworms) that you may decide it most affordable to limit the number you put out as well as the number of feedings. Looking to limit who gets your mealworms? Backyard Bird Shop carries a caged mealworm feeder that allows only the delicate bluebird and smaller birds access.
Be prepared to be the most popular feeding station in your neighborhood and have fun feeding mealworms to your birds!
HOW DO I OFFER MEALWORMS TO BIRDS?
Live mealworms are best offered in a mealworm designated feeder to keep them from escaping before the birds discover them. Backyard Bird Shop carries window-mounted and hanging mealworm feeders that are both pleasing to the eye and functional. An alternative to purchasing a mealworm feeder is to convert a disc-hummingbird feeder by removing the lid to become a mealworm feeder. You can also repurpose a hanging ant moat or offer live mealworms in a small glass or plastic bowl placed on a tray or in a fly-thru feeder.
Freeze-dried or roasted mealworms can be purchased in a sock that is ready-to-hang. They can also be purchased in packages of bulk mealworms that you mix in with seed or offer separately in most any type of feeder. Both dried and live mealworms need to be protected from rain.
Tip: To help your birds find a new mealworm feeder, try hanging it directly from a suet feeder (or nearby), as many of your suet-eating birds will notice the live mealworms and drop down to enjoy a fresh snack. Once they have imprinted on the feeder, you can then move it to its own location nearby.
HOW TO CARE FOR LIVE MEALWORMS
Live mealworms come in a tub of bran flakes, which is the material they live in and feed on. If you keep mealworms in the refrigerator (42-50o), they become dormant and with feedings every 10-14 days, can last for 30-45 days. You can keep mealworms longer and increase their nutritious value to the birds by transferring them into a larger plastic container (never airtight!) kept in a cool place where they can feed and grow. Feeding slices of potato, apple, carrot, or even banana peel will offer mealworms moisture and extra nutrition. Be sure to keep daily watch and discard any food that begins to decay or mold. Mold is not good for the mealworms and they are only as healthy as the food they eat. Over time you may need to remove feces and add more substrate (wheat bran or dry oatmeal).