Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Mealworms
Finches and Nyjer seed. Hummingbirds and nectar. Orioles and jelly. Many birds are commonly identified with one particular food that they eat over all others. In the case of bluebirds, this favored food is the mealworm. They are far, however, from the only kind of bird that feasts on mealworms – robins, chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches are among the long list of birds that enjoy feeding on mealworms. Despite being a mere inch long and seemingly completely uncomplicated to feed to birds, there’s actually a good deal of info about mealworms that birders should be aware of.
Mealworms are the larval stage of a kind of beetle called the darkling beetle. A normal mealworm is in that stage for anywhere between 12 and 54 days, and has a tan coloration. They are a popular food source in the summer for many nestling-raising birds because mealworms are rich in nutrients. Despite having such nutritional advantages – especially with regards to the amount of protein they contain – mealworms are generally advised to be served in moderation as more of a supplemental food. Not only are they difficult for young birds to digest, but they also are calcium-depleting. This, obviously, can have negative effects such as weakening bones in young birds. While this calcium deficiency can be negated by coating the mealworms with calcium carbonate or calcium powder, it’s not a foolproof fix.
With the advice to feed mealworms as more of a supplement in mind, the serving size is generally recommended to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 no more than twice per day. The worms, which can either be fed live or dried to birds, aren’t able to be served in anything other than a bluebird or platform feeder. Bluebirds are able to tell the difference between dead and not-dead mealworms based on color, movement and texture, and subsequently won’t eat dead mealworms – so make sure not to try to pass any dead mealworms off as the real thing if you’re feeding bluebirds. If you buy live mealworms but don’t plan to use them for a while, the best place to store them is in a refrigerator.
A neat little trick to further entice birds to eat from a feeder containing mealworms is to spread some of the worms on the ground around the feeder. Birds will likely notice this scattered food and then continue eating at the feeder once they notice there’s much more food there. Additionally, try to ring a bell or blow a whistle every day at the same time when you put the mealworms out in the same place – this will eventually create a routine for the birds where they associate the sound of the bell or whistle with food, and they’ll know to show up to feed when they hear it.
Follow those tips and you’ll soon have more birds eating mealworms than you know what to do with. Shop mealworms and more at Duncraft.com. Happy Birding!
Written by Guest Writer Sean Peick