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
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!
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
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
or go to the NABS web site at
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.