Mealworms for Bluebird: when, how & do it safety

I noted in my last blog article that “mealworms are the best food to feed bluebirds” according to the Michigan Bluebird Society. So this article will focus on mealworms—when to feed them mealworms, how to do it and especially how to do it in a way that is safe for the birds.

If you are not aware of them, the North American Bluebird Society is “a non-profit education, conservation and research organization that promotes the recovery of bluebirds and other native cavity-nesting bird species in North America.”  They are a great resource on all things bluebird and their website has a number of ‘Factsheets’ including ‘Getting started with bluebirds’ and ‘Nestbox Plans.’ They also have a Facebook page.

One of the North American Bluebird Society’s ‘Factsheets’ is all about mealworms–their care and how to feed them to bluebirds. They list the following times/reasons that mealworms can be fed to bluebirds:

  • Entice them to use a nestbox
  • Help the incubating female find food quickly so she does not have to leave her eggs unattended for long periods of time
  • Act as supplementary food for nestlings if food becomes scarce—e.g., when weather conditions prevent the parents from finding insects
  • Help birds survive during spells of severe weather
  • As supplemental food when one parent is attempting to raise young because the other parent is missing.

The North American Bluebird Society also offers the following note of caution regarding feeding mealworms:

  • “Because they do not provide complete nutrition, mealworms should be used as a supplemental food only. They are calcium depleting, which can leave young birds with weak bones or cause egg binding in laying birds. To counter this, put the mealworms in a plastic bag with calcium carbonate or calcium citrate powder, and shake it gently to coat them. Both forms of calcium are available at health food stores or online.
  • Offer mealworms in limited quantities just once or twice a day unless poor weather conditions dictate more frequent feeding. A hundred or so worms offered morning and evening would be more than adequate for a pair with a box of nestlings.”  [note: bolding for emphasis is blog author's]

 

The North American Bluebird Society is a great group to join.  A number of states and provinces (even Bermuda!) have bluebird organizations that are affiliates of the North American Bluebird Society and you can find them at the NABS Affiliates site.

    • says

      Adding calcium powder to your mealworms is a good idea since mealworms are low in calcium. You can get the calcium into powder form by : crushing up calcium tablets, dry milk powder, or by crushing up egg shells. To convert the egg shells to powder bake at 100 degrees for 30 minutes and crush (wash and clean out membrane before baking).
      Moisten the mealworms with water or a light coat of olive oil and add to a baggie which has the calcium powder….shake and put out for the bluebirds.
      Don’t forget to put crushed up egg shells that have soaked in water and softened in your bluebird feeder for the adults.
      If you raise mealworms, it is a good idea to add calcium powder to the medium in which the mealworms are growing.

  1. Cindy Giffen says

    Will blue birds eat the dry meal worms? We have a pair of blue birds that had nested in one of our bird boxes in our back yard and we are hoping to see them this year… I had put out dried meal worms last summer for them but have not notice if they are eating them, I have them in a caged feeder… Should I display them different for the blue birds… Love watching the blue birds when they come to nest… Last summer we watched the male & female raise five young baby’s and we watched them babies grown and fly away on their own when they were ready to leave the nest, That was a wonderful site to get to see and we are hoping the pair will be back this year again so we can enjoy them again…

      • Sue says

        I have had no luck in getting the blue birds in my area (middle TN) to eat the dried mealworms. I have tried for two different summers.

    • says

      Hi Cindy,
      It is enjoyable watching bluebirds nest and raise a family successfully. I was privileged to watch a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, very uncommon breeders in Colorado, nest in a cavity in a tree limb.

      The North American Bluebird Society factsheet on mealworms says the following regarding feeding dry meal worms: “They are maintenance-free and may last longer so are considered by some to be more cost effective. However, bluebirds may ignore the lifeless mealworms unless other options for food are limited (e.g., during poor weather). Rehydrating the worms with a little water or vegetable oil may make them more attractive to birds.”

    • Chris Williams says

      Yes, they will eat the dried worms. I’m not sure about the nutritional value of dried worms, but they love them.

    • says

      Hello Pauline,
      I expect you are asking about the dry mealworms you purchase at bird supply and some other stores.

      The North American Bluebird Society factsheet on mealworms says the following regarding feeding dry meal worms: “They are maintenance-free and may last longer so are considered by some to be more cost effective. However, bluebirds may ignore the lifeless mealworms unless other options for food are limited (e.g., during poor weather). Rehydrating the worms with a little water or vegetable oil may make them more attractive to birds.”

  2. says

    If anyone is interested, we started selling mealworms on our website last fall at http://www.FishCreekMealworms.com Admittedly, here on the West Coast I think we’ve sold more for people’s chickens than for the wild birds. It sure would be great to see an increase in the population of eastern bluebirds though so hopefully folks will continue to provide nesting sites and mealworms this Spring.

    • says

      Hello,
      Here is what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s ‘All About Birds’ webpage on Eastern Bluebirds says about their natural diet: “Insects caught on the ground are a bluebird’s main food for much of the year. Major prey include caterpillars, beetles crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders. In fall and winter, bluebirds eat large amounts of fruit including mistletoe, sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, dogwood berries, hackberries, honeysuckle, bay, pokeweed, and juniper berries. Rarely, Eastern Bluebirds have been recorded eating salamanders, shrews, snakes, lizards, and tree frogs.” The diet of Western and Mountain Bluebirds should be similar.

  3. Lola Sebring says

    I have wondered how you can raise mealworms. I don’t have the money to buy that kind of feed, but love having Bluebirds around. I have not had any for a few years now. the tree that they liked fell, and my bird house roof rotted. I am in my eighties and can’t fix a lot of things that I used to do. thank you much.
    LS

  4. Marian says

    I live in Maine and this winter was a really bad winter. I have the bluebirds year round. I have a platform feeder that I them on and feed only the dried mealworms. They also eat my suet which I hang over the feeder. They come everyday morning and at night. I love watching them come with there babies and teach them how to eat. I have 7 bluebird boxes out. I have two sets of bluebirds that I know of. The swallows nest in some of the boxes. This is my second year to have them in the winter.
    They had such a wonderful call and are so sweet to watch.
    My feeder is right in the window so it really doesn’t matter where you place the feeders. In the window gives you really close up pictures to take.

  5. LDW says

    Here in NE coastal Ma. We have Eastern Bluebirds all winter. They visit my feeders and heated water source a number of times a day. We provide dry meal worms in a cage feeder specifically made for the purpose but they also love my homemade suet cakes (recipe from a Birds and Bloom reader a few years ago which is the best ever) and we see them eating black oil sun flower seeds from our tray feeders as well. We live in a wooded area near a pond and I was so surprised and delighted that they have chosen to visit us…there are other areas of town with large wide open fields which is so much more bluebird habitat but for whatever reason a few years ago they started sporadically flying in late winter thru early spring. Now they have become regulars all year round…so beautiful especially on a snowy day!

  6. Marge Breuer says

    I have my first blue bird house, and wonder how to keep the other birds out, The house just went up last week and the sparrows keep trying to move in. I still do not understand where to put the meal worms. On the ground, in the house in a dish. Could you help me? I live in MN and spring is just coming.

  7. Molly says

    I have just started raising mealworms. I bought a reptile terrarium with vented lid at PetSmart for $10. They also carry live mealworms. I bought 500 $5.00. I had to go to a grocery store to buy wheat meal (health foods section) $1.75 bag. It only took part of a bag. Fill about 1/3 full, add worms. Make sure lid is tight :) There is a hatch in the lid. I sliced a potatoe and laid it on the surface. Soon they pull it down and it disappears from sight. They also liked banana peel chunks.

    Here’s hoping the vent openings are small enough to keep the beetles contained. You should let them reproduce at least once before you start harvesting them for food. Freezing or cold temps will kill them, but they thrive up to 125o.

    I believe the full info is on Community Chickens or maybe it was BackYard Chickens. Henny Penny loves her treats!

  8. says

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] Fly-Thru Mealworm Feeder (available at Duncraft): Bluebirds love mealworms! Other insect-loving species like mockingbirds and grosbeaks may visit too. If you decide to offer mealworms in your backyard, be sure to see SeEtta’s recent post on doing so safely. [...]

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