When the cold weather and dreary days seem to be dragging on, a change in routine can renew your energy. Why not make a change that rejuvenates your backyard birds as well?
Mealworms aren't just for bluebirds! Putting out mealworms in addition to your regular offerings can attract cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, sparrows, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, wrens—even the occasional warbler, oriole, vireo, and tanager. Insects are often overlooked in traditional bird feed choices, but once insect-eating birds discover that you offer them, they will flock to you for this part of their diet.
Mealworms are the larvae of the beetle Tenebrio molitor. One way to get mealworms is to purchase them freeze-dried. However, buying and feeding live worms will result in the happiest birds. You can buy live mealworms in various sized containers at your local Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop. Offering them is easy, and your birds will thank you for it.
When you get your mealworms, take them out of the packaging and place into a smooth-sided container with sides at least one inch higher than the worms—a plastic shoebox works well. They can't climb very high, so don't worry about escapees.
To feed your worms the fiber they need, put old-fashioned rolled oats into their container. Do not use quick oats; the bran has been removed. Also, as a source of moisture, add a couple chunks of carrots or apples into the mix.
When you get the mealworms home, store them at 40 to 50 degrees. Mealworms naturally stay in their larval stage for 10 weeks. If you keep them in your refrigerator, they will last for several months in a dormant state if properly cared for. Leave the top of their container uncovered, or poke or cut holes in it, because fresh air is a must. Every two to three weeks, bring the worms out of the 'fridge and let them sit at room temperature for a few hours to let them come out of their dormant state to eat.
When you feed mealworms to your birds, offer a small amount to start—about a dozen worms in a heavy dish that has sides to maintain them. A bluebird feeder or a glass or plastic tray feeder works well. A lightweight serving dish that could tip over when birds land won't be welcoming. To help birds find the worms, place the dish near your regular bird feeders, and serve them at the same time as you normally fill your feeders. Soon, birds will be watching for you to put more out every day. Once birds are regularly eating your mealworms, offer a small handful or two per day.
Watch for a different mix of birds at your mealworm feeder, and pay attention as birds become accustomed to their new food source. Adding mealworms to your bird feeding routine is sure to be a hit with your backyard birds!