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Solving the Problem of Mealworm Getaway
By Nola Aiken

For some people, birding has been a lifelong interest; for others, the interest comes later in life. My husband, Paul, and I discovered birding when we were in our 50s. It all started when we placed a feeder in our backyard, sometime in the summer of 1993. We found the different species coming to the yard interesting, but at that time, we could only identify about five.

A year later, in September 1994, 1 found myself volunteering to be the editor of the local Audubon Society newsletter. I constantly read bird guides, bird books, and any bird article I could find, so I could write intelligently for the newsletter. In reading, I found I was particularly attracted to the eastern bluebird.

On a nature hike at Pennsylvania's Parker Dam State Park on April 29, 1995, we saw our first bluebird. The park naturalist showed my husband and me a bluebird nest with four blue eggs, plus a beautiful male sitting in the tree watching us. From that moment, I was hooked, and became a " bluebirder. " I spent a year reading everything I could find, and by the following spring (1996), 1 was ready to get into active bluebirding. Paul built four nest boxes, and we decided to establish a bluebird trail.

We rode around all the country roads in the area of our small town of 3,000 looking for the right habitat, but we always found something that wasn't exactly right for bluebirds. We knew we had to find a place very soon; according to everything I had read, bluebirds would be returning to our part of the United States in a few weeks.

To make a long story a bit shorter, we found a place only five minutes from our home, and we mounted four boxes. Our first four nestlings died because of a cold snap, and we novices figured the parents couldn't find enough food for their young. We soon had another four nestlings, but alas, they too died in a second cold snap.

We were determined this would not happen again. We would provide mealworms for the bluebird families in our care.

For the 1997 bluebird season, Paul built more nest boxes, but he also built a mealworm tray with sides raised about two inches. Since we had erected nest boxes in pairs, Paul mounted the tray on top of the nest box that was close to the box holding the family. Each time we returned, the mealworms were gone. However, it didn't take a college degree for us to realize that many of the mealworms were crawling up the sides of the feeder and dropping to the ground. And, with many robins in the area, we wondered if maybe they weren't getting a large portion of the worms.

Approaching the feeder one time in our truck, we saw a bluebird sitting on top of the tray feeder, so we knew the bluebirds were at least getting some of the worms. But improvements had to be made.

Drawing his own plans from pictures he had seen of mealworm feeders in books and magazines, Paul constructed a wood feeder, with two glass sides. The two wood ends had the proper size hole for the bluebirds to enter. One half of the roof was hinged to allow for filling the feeder. The feeder was mounted in another area of the trail, about halfway between a nest box that had held one bluebird family and was now holding another.

It didn't take long before we recognized another problem. As soon as the worms were placed in the feeder, they started crawling up the wooden ends of the feeder and right out of the hole. Of course, a bluebird would have no problem finding the escaped worms, but other worms would have no problem either, and we were trying to feed bluebirds.

It wasn't long before Paul had the problem solved. He made a new feeder, and cut a piece of panel molding (shaped like a J) to fit the width of the wood end. He mounted it about two inches up from the floor with the open portion of the J pointed down (see illustration). When the worms crawl up the side and come to the open portion of the J, that is as far as they can go. We found it was important to get the J molding cut to exact width, keeping it as close as possible to the glass sides. Some of the smaller worms can crawl through a very small crack. The larger worms - never!

mealworm feeder


The text of this article is posted with permission from Nola Aiken, the drawings are posted with permission from the article as printed in the Bluebird.  This is an updated article similar to an article that was published in the Bird Watcher's Digest Magazine and Bluebird the Journal of the North American Bluebird Society (NABS).  NABS is a membership organization for persons interested in bluebirds and other North American birds which use cavities for nesting. For membership information, send a message to membership@nabluebrdsociety.org or go to the NABS web site at http://www.nabluebirdsociety.org/ 

Nola Requested that I give credit for the idea and creativity of this project to Paul Aiken, her late husband and constant companion of forty wedded years.  She mentioned that Paul was an accomplished bluebirder, nestbox builder, mealworm raiser, and could even imitate the call of the eastern bluebird.


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.