Enticing birds with mealworms

Mealworms are one of the best ways to entice uncommon feathered visitors to your feeder. Although they have been used for feeding birds for a long time, mealworms are now becoming increasingly popular. The lowly mealworm makes an effective lure because the majority of species include insects in their diet. I recommend trying them now while the weather is cold.

Mealworms are the larvae form of the mealworm beetle, which is also known as the darkling beetle, Tenebrio molitor. They pose no threat to humans, and to birds, these golden-colored worms are what true gold is to us. These creepy little inch-long worms are most often sold dead and dehydrated. However, live mealworms can be purchased, too. The live worms do a better job at getting the attention of birds.

Like any new food, mealworms have to be discovered by your birds. In most cases, when they go uneaten, it is because they were not seen. Make sure the worms are offered where birds can spot them while flying over or through your yard. A clear plastic or mealworm feeder works best.

Anybody familiar with mealworms knows they are an effective way at attracting bluebirds. During the winter, bluebirds generally retreat into the wetlands or the moderate microclimate of our coastal region. Some migrate out of New England and winter over in the southern states. Those that stay with us survive by converting from an insectivore to eating primarily fruit.

In a deep freeze, the discovery of mealworms is a godsend to a cold and hungry bluebird. The mealworms provide a source of protein difficult to find during the winter. Should you be lucky enough to attract bluebirds, they may stay through the winter and decide to nest. You might consider, if your yard has open lawn space, placing a bluebird nesting box out before March.

Spring is a busy time for almost all birds, including bluebirds, and the availability of mealworms will make feeding offspring a little easier. Even though mealworms are high in protein, they lack other nutrients, and you should caution when birds seem to rely on them too much. It is best to limit the number offered. Simultaneously offer the worms with peanuts, raisin bits, or when feeding them to other birds, try seeds.

Don’t be surprised if Carolina wrens get hooked on these golden offerings, too. The Carolina wren, formerly a southern bird, is slowly expanding its range north, and, like the bluebird, they find the Connecticut winter rough. Mealworms can truly help their survival. These spry little wrens are just one of many species attracted to the worms.

Chickadees, tufted titmice, blue jays, and northern cardinals all take some mealworms, but there are a few species that you probably would never feed without the worms. These are the neotropical migrants: species such as yellow-rumped warblers, and the gray catbird might fly in to grab a worm or two. These birds are much less likely to show up, but some birders get them in spring.

Mealworms can be purchased almost anywhere birdseed is sold. The live worms are difficult to find, but they can be ordered online. Some people raise them at home, which is worth thinking about if you have good luck at the feeder. Imagine the thrill of viewing bluebirds on a daily basis.

Robert Tougias is a birding author living in Colchester. He can answer your questions at rtougias@snet.net 

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