I first discovered mealworms when I discovered Bluebirds. It was 1999 and I had just moved to Loudoun. I remember the day pretty well – it was a January day with a chill in the air. I was filled with excitement for all the new birds I was learning, right here in our yard and then I saw this flash of blue flutter to a limb. I ran through the house, binoculars and Peterson’s field guide in hand, going from window to window to get a glimpse. That was my first bluebird!
I then started researching it to find out what they eat, what habitat they prefer, what their calls sounded like and all of that. One article I read talked about feeding bluebirds mealworms to attract them. So, looking for some instant gratification to be able to see this bird again, I went to a pet store in Leesburg where they sell mealworms and bought a cup. I also picked up a small acrylic bird feeder, the kind you stick to the window, so I could put the mealworms in it and get good views of the bluebirds.
It worked! I had not only Bluebirds but also nuthatches, chickadees, tufted titmice, and even red-bellied woodpeckers coming for a snack. It was great.
I no longer go to the pet store for mealworms. I now order them online in larger quantities – it’s far cheaper in the long run that way, but it was nice to be able to try it out with small amounts first.
There’s not much involved in caring for mealworms but here are a few tips.
– If you buy them online (e.g Grubco or Nature’s Wayor other places) in large amounts, have a container ready for when they arrive. When I buy them from Grubco they generally arrive in a muslin sack with newspaper and all you need to do is shake them off of the newspaper into your container and you’re set.
– You need to feed your mealworms and oatmeal is great for them. They also need a source of water so just cut up some potatoes, carrots or apples and they’ll be happy.
– It’s also good to keep them cool so they don’t metamorphose into beetles too quickly. Some people raise their own mealworms and there’s all sorts of information on that but I haven’t done it myself. Here’s a YouTube video that shows how to raise them if you want to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c82fInUdLJ8
– If you have starlings in your yard, you may want to take precautions to keep them away from the mealworms. They will fly in as a flock and within seconds gobble up everything you’ve put out.
I use a couple of types of feeders, one looks like a cage with the holes in the metal big enough for Bluebirds and smaller birds like chickadees, wrens, titmice and nuthatches to easily get through but not big enough for starlings to get in. The birds seem to like this one as they can easily fly in and out.
Another type I have is the acrylic one that sticks to the window. That’s fun for up close viewing but I only put a small amount of mealworms in there at a time. The woodpeckers will come to this one which is fun to watch as well as mockingbirds and jays. The third type is an acrylic one that hangs and has a roof to it. You can lower the roof so that bigger birds can’t get in.
A type that I have seen but not used is one that is all enclosed. It has a hole on each end and acrylic sides so you can see the birds. I haven’t used this type because I’m concerned that a bird may get trapped inside, and feeling stressed not remember how to get out, so I’ve leaned towards the open style feeders.
– In terms of when to feed birds mealworms…It can be year round. They definitely appreciate them during the winter when food is more scarce but also during the spring and summer they may come to pick up some food for their fledglings.
The North American Bluebird Society also has a page dedicated to mealworms and you’ll find that here: http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/mealworms.htm