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mealworm feeder

Many bluebirders swear that supplying mealworms has really made a positive difference during times of stress.- when spring suddenly turns back to winter, when constant rain and/or cold cut off insect supply for the young. And many of us also find satisfaction and pleasure in supplying wintering chickadees, nuthatches, and other songbirds as well.

Feeders can range from empty tuna cans swinging from a roof overhang to fancy feeders of wood and glass, similar to seed feeders, but with holes in both wooden ends. These are now being shown in mail order catalogs. Ahlgren Construction (address on mail-order pages) has the simple ones, and the cedar/glass feeders available at $15plus $5shipping. Carrol Henderson's Woodworking for Wildlife (see also mail order) has plans for a seed feeder which is virtually the same, without the 11/2" round or Peterson oval hole in either end.

The plan below, taken from the article by Nola Aiken in the Jan/ Feb '99 Bird Watcher's Digest (p. 86), is easy to follow. Instead of placing mealworrns in ceramic dishes within the feeder, her late husband used pieces of panel molding shaped like a J tacked 2" above the floor on the wooden ends. Worms could crawl all over the floor, but not out if ends of the j-molding were tight against the sides of the glass. Nola graciously gave permission to reprint the plans.

Nola Aiken's Mealworm feeder

Note: Initially, you may want to leave one glass side off, and/or put strips of masking tape horizontally across the glass, if bluebirds seem to be bothered by it, or have just one side glass or plexiglass, the other wood.

Chickadees don't seem to mind freshly frozen mealworms, but other birds might. Dave Ahlgren suggests: if you feed mealworms to wintering songbirds and worry that they won't eat worms that freeze, securely set the dish of meal worms in the heated birdbath! Bob Anderson, Olmsted Co., devised a heat tape wrap around the tuna can holding the mealworms. Others have devised a low-wattage light bulb underneath a cutout in the floor. An adaptation of the heated bird bath (October 1998 Bluebird News) could be used.



By John Thompson


Mealworms are an excellent supplement to bird feeding as they provide additional protein to bluebirds' regular diet of 85% insects and 15% seeds. When those early spring bluebirds arrive and insects are not abundant, the availability of mealworms in the vicinity of your bluebird nestboxes may be the difference between attracting bluebirds back to your yard or having them move to a different area to begin their nesting activities.

Mealworms are easy to raise. Only a few basics need be followed to start and maintain a mealworm colony for a constant supply. In addition to bluebirds, mealworms will attract a wide variety of popular bird feeder visitors. The Midwest birds listed below LOVE mealworms and may even have a preference for them over and above black sunflower seed. In other geographical areas an even greater variety of birds will be attracted to mealworms.


American Robins

Indigo Buntings House Finches Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
Chickadees Rufus-sided Towhees Northern Cardinals Chipping Sparrows
Downy Woodpeckers Field Sparrows Nuthatches Song Sparrows
Red-bellied Woodpeckers Juncos Hairy Woodpeckers Grackles
Catbirds Blackbirds Blue Jays Tanagers
Brown Thrashers Orioles Mockingbirds Evening Grosbeaks
Warblers Purple Finches Vireos Brown Creepers
Kinglets Carolina Wrens

For your own mealworm colony: order regular or fishing bait size worms in bulk from a supplier. I get mine from Rainbow Mealworms P.O. Box 4907,126 E. Spruce St., Compton, CA 90220. To order by phone: 1-800-7779676. 2000 mealworms will cost $9.75 plus shipping. (Smaller amounts are available.) Rainbow guarantees quality condition on receipt. Never order Giant or Jumbo size- they do not keep or reproduce well.

A 5-gallon plastic pail works well. Buy enough oat bran to fill half the pail. Oat bran is usually available in large food stores, food co-ops or feed stores. A year's supply will be only a few dollars. When received your mealworms will be packed in crumbled newspaper. Shake them out into the pail. Put no more than 1,000 in one pail. Overcrowding will generate heat and will kill them. Keep out of direct sunlight. Avoid freezing. Best temperature is between 45' and 75' F. They will thrive in the coolest part of your basement. About every two weeks put, on a piece of cardboard, a couple of lettuce leaves, a slice of potato or apple. Never add additional moisture. As the mealworms consume the bran, a fine dusty residue will settle to the bottom. The uneaten top portion of the bran should be salvaged, along with the microscopic eggs of the beetle stage, and the bottom portion discarded, about three times a year. Then half fill the pail with new oat bran.

The mealworms, or larval stage you receive, will go through 10-20 molts, then into a white pupa stage and into the adult beetle. The beetle is flightless, but you may wish to screen over the top of the pail. Depending on food and temperature, the cyclic stages may be 100 to several hundred days. Minute larvae will appear from the eggs and will grow rapidly to size for bird feeding. When my colony mealworms grow to a size comparable to those I received originally I remove them from the bran pail, and put them in plastic containers to keep in the refrigerator, where they will remain in the larval stage. You can freeze some mealworms, which winter birds will eat. Freezing does not seem to bother them; they are adapted to eating frozen food in winter. But DO NOT supply frozen worms when adults are feeding young nestlings or fledglings.

While special feeders are available, I use a small tin or plastic container near where the bluebirds are active. One or 11/2 dozen mealworms twice each day for each bluebird pair will keep them satisfied yet not dependent on this supplement to their regular diet. You may want to increase this when young birds are being fed in the nestbox.

Mealworms are a perfect lure for photography and close-up pictures. Many excellent bluebird pictures attest to this. Nestboxes, mealworms, bird baths, short grass, scattered perching sites, regular monitoring, and predator protection will provide you with unlimited enjoyment of " the bird that carries the sky on its back" (as well as many other delightful songbirds).

Note: John Thompson has maintained a mealworm colony for ten years. Others may have variations on raising mealworms. Experiment! Whatever method works, mealworm feeding adds to the joy of bluebirding, and can have a positive impact on nesting success.


Posted with permission from the February 1999 Bluebird Recovery Program Newsletter "BLUEBIRD NEWS"

Please E-mail me at bluebirdbox@cox.net and specify a subject such as bluebirds.

date of last change 01/20/15Web space provided by the Audubon Society of Omaha.