A backyard feeder full of nutritious mealworms is beloved by bug-eating birds—and a guaranteed way to spice up your bird feeding routine.
Mealworms are often mistaken for worms, though they’re actually the larval form of the mealworm beetle. They are clean, easy to work with, an excellent source of nutrients, and an aid to birds through cold winter weather and spring reproduction.
“The connection that is created between people and nature from feeding birds—that is undisputable,” said Emma Greig, the project leader of Project FeederWatch, a winterlong survey of feeder birds. Emma offers these easy tips to increase your chances of enticing new species:
Live or Dried Mealworms?
You decide. There are pros and cons to each method. Live mealworms are most appealing to birds, though they come at a price and require work to maintain. Dried mealworms are low-cost and convenient, yet may not be as effective at catching birds’ eyes. (Read more: How to Attract Bluebirds)
Store Mealworms Safely
Once you buy a live batch, place them in a shallow plastic container with a 2- to 5-gallon capacity. Cover with a screen or perforated lid for air circulation. Toss in a few apples for moisture, some loose bran and oatmeal. Mealworms are only as nutritious as the food they eat, so feed the larvae well for one to two days before sharing them with birds. Place the container in the refrigerator to slow their growth, and keep them in the larval form that birds love.
How to Offer Mealworms to Birds
Rather than scattering mealworms on the ground, place them on a platform feeder or rimmed dish to keep them contained. That way, you’re less likely to have the mischievous mealworms crawl away to safety. The feeders should be located near vegetation and away from windows. (Read more: How to Feed Birds All Year Long)
Serving Size of Mealworms
Expect to go through about 100 mealworms per day once birds know where to find them. These protein-filled snacks are only a supplement to their diets, so serving more or less is OK.
Cheap Ways to Serve Mealworms
There are multiple ways to cut costs and make mealworm feeding manageable. Consider making your own feeder or simply recycle old kitchen pans or dishes. For long-term savings, buy live larvae in bulk from local or online bird food suppliers. Or raise them yourself for a perpetual source. “If folks have the patience for it, I think it’s probably a great way to maintain a nice collection of healthy, nutritious mealworms,” Emma said. Look for easy-to-follow guides online. (Read more: How to Maintain Backyard Bird Feeders)
7 Birds That Love Mealworms
Find out which species are most likely to frequent your feeders and gobble up mealworms (and other foods) at feederwatch.org—go to the Common Feeder Birds section for an interactive tool.