You’ve probably heard of mealworms, and how they’re good food for fish and birds. But before you go ahead to buy some, you may want to know if your bird will even eat it.
Virtually all insectivorous birds will eat mealworms since they are the larvae of the darkling beetle. However, backyard birds like wrens, warblers, and bluebirds are particularly fond of mealworms. These insects are rich in protein, which helps muscle development in infant birds.
In this article, you’ll find a long list of birds that eat mealworms, how to feed mealworms to birds, serving size, and how to raise your own mealworms.
What Are Mealworms?
Despite their name, mealworms aren’t really worms. They’re the larvae of the mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor) also known as the darkling beetle.
Mealworms have a golden-yellow color, and so they’re also called golden grubs. Most mealworms will grow up to 1.5 inches, before reaching the pupal stage of their life cycle. As larvae, the worms are a great source of protein which is essential for muscle development, especially for young birds and hatchlings.
Besides birds, mealworms are also used as pet food for fish, reptiles, and amphibians, and as bait when fishing. Some people also enjoy eating mealworms.
Birds That Eat Mealworms
About 80% of bird families eat insects, and so will eat mealworms since the worms are the larvae of insects. But even so, some bird species enjoy mealworms more than others. Here is a list of wild and backyard birds that will appreciate a treat of mealworms.
- Eastern bluebirds
- Western bluebirds
- House sparrows
- Baltimore Orioles
- Blue and great tits
- Gray-headed catbirds
- Song thrushes
- American and European robins
Any of the birds above will enjoy a meal (pun intended!) of mealworms. And live mealworms are an excellent way to attract elusive species, like the western and eastern bluebirds to your garden.
How To Feed Mealworms To Birds
You can feed birds with live or dried golden grubs. Although the wriggling movement of the live worms is more enticing to birds, they’ll eventually find and eat dried mealworms as well.
It’s quite easy to feed birds with dried mealworms as you can get them from most bed suppliers and pet stores. This is the better option if you’re squeamish and seeing or touching live worms disturbs you.
You can serve dried mealworms to the birds directly or mixed with other foods such as seeds, fruits, and nuts. Another way to go is to melt the dried worms into suet.
In springtime, which is when most birds breed, leave dried mealworms in warm water to soften before giving them to the birds. This will make it easier for hatchlings to swallow and reduce the risk of choking.
With live mealworms, you can’t simply place and leave them in a bird feeder, as they can easily crawl out.
The best way to serve live mealworms is in a smooth container with straight sides. Either glass, plastic, or metal will do, only ensure that it’s about two inches deep, to prevent the insects from getting away. You can also use a tray or platform feeder, but ensure that it has sides to keep the mealworms in.
You can also get special mealworm feeders. These can hang from poles, or you can place them at feeding stations.
Mealworm Serving Size
The number of mealworms you serve will depend on the number of birds that visit. If you have many birds visiting your garden, you can leave out a hundred mealworms. A moderate number of visitors can have 45 to 50 mealworms
Remember to remove any leftover mealworms every evening, so you don’t have to battle pests like raccoons and chipmunks in your bird feeder.
Tip: As stated earlier, mealworms pack a ton of protein. But they also lack other nutrients, like calcium, which contributes to developing strong bones. As such, do not feed your birds solely on mealworms, but with some seed mix and other foods like fruits, nuts, and berries.
Also, never give birds mealworms meant for humans, as they typically have some spices and flavorings, which can be toxic for birds.
How To Raise Mealworms
Like dried mealworms, you can also buy the live variety in stores and online. But this might not be the cheapest option if you’ve got a lot of birds to feed. One way birders can reduce cost is by raising their own stock of mealworms.
Raising meal worms is easy and doesn’t require any special tools or procedures. All you need are a few hundred adult mealworms or beetles, and the following household items.
- A shallow glass or plastic container with a lid. (A shoebox or ice cream tub will do.)
- Newspaper or cardboard
- Apple and potato slices for moisture
- Food for the mealworms like oats, bran, or corn.
First, make holes in the container’s lid for air circulation, then put several layers of newspaper or cardboard paper at the bottom to serve as bedding. Add oats, corn, bread (or all three if you’ve got them all on hand) to feed the mealworms. The combined thickness of the bedding and food at the bottom of the container should be about 2.5 to 3 inches.
Next, throw in some slices of apples and potatoes, to help keep the environment humid, and as additional food sources. You can also use wedges of lettuce, carrot, cabbage, and banana peels for humidity and food.
Finally, transfer the mealworms into the container, and put the lid over it. Place the insects in a warm location above room temperature but out of direct sunlight.
Check on your mealworms regularly and remove any dried or moldy food. You can leave dead grubs for the surviving mealworms to eat. Make sure you change the beddings every week to keep the larvae healthy and prevent deaths.
It can take anywhere from four to six weeks for the mealworms to pupate, turning into creamy-colored pupae that don’t eat or move. After one or two weeks, new darkling beetles will emerge.
The new beetles will soon start laying eggs and will continue to do so till the end of their life cycle. The eggs will hatch into mealworms after one to four weeks. And once the grubs are big enough, you can take them to the garden for birds to eat.
Tips for Raising Mealworms
- Separate the newly hatched mealworms from beetles, as the beetles will feed on them. A simple way to do this is to throw in apple slices to attract the beetles, then move the insects to a different residence, leaving the mealworms behind.
- Room temperature Heated laundry rooms, basements, and garages are ideal for growing Mealworms (and beetles) as the warm temperatures help the insects grow and reproduce faster.
You can store live mealworms by putting them in a refrigerator until when you need them. The cold will slow down their metabolism and prevent them from turning into beetles.
Almost all insectivorous bird species will eat mealworms. However, these protein-rich insects are especially loved by backyard birds like titmice, bluebirds, warblers, wrens, and chickadees.
You can feed birds with both dried and live mealworms. However, ensure that you don’t feed birds with mealworms meant for humans, as the spices and flavors can be toxic for birds. Additionally, don’t feed your birds only on mealworms, as these insects lack other essential nutrients despite being rich in protein.