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Full Guide to Feeding Mealworms to Birds

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

Full Guide to Feeding Mealworms to Birds

Many of us get excited when we set up a bird feeder and we get out first visitors. But if you’re serious about providing your backyard birds with the proper nutrition they need to migrate, feed their young, or stay strong and healthy during the winter months, then mealworms are an excellent high-protein option and one that even the pickiest eaters will love. Add some mealworms to your backyard setup and watch the birds start flocking. A bird feeder that’s full of these nutrient-dense larvae is one way to guarantee repeat visitors. Mealworms are commonly mistaken as worms, but in reality, they’re a larval form of the mealworm beetle. These larvae are easy to work with, clean, and provide an excellent source of nutrition for a variety of bird species. Learning about feeding mealworms to birds can help you provide these birds with the nutrients they’re lacking, can help them get through a tough winter, and can be just what they need during nesting season.

Dried Versus Live Mealworms

Ask some birders and they’ll tell you that live mealworms are the only way to go, while others will argue that the dried option is best, especially for those on a tight budget who are responsible for feeding up to a hundred birds in their yard a day, every day, year-round.

There are many pros and cons for each method. Most birders can agree that live mealworms are by far the most appealing option, however, they do require more maintenance than the dried variety, which equals more work for you. The dried variety is more convenient, more affordable, but they don’t have the same attention-capturing magic that the live mealworms do.

How Many Mealworms Can a Bird Eat Per Feeding?

How Many Mealworms Can a Bird Eat Per Feeding

If you receive plenty of visitors throughout the day, plan on placing about one hundred mealworms out a day, in a location where your visitors will know where to find them. These snacks are protein-filled and should only be used to supplement their diet, so don’t go overboard and take away their regular birdseed.

Serving Mealworms on a Budget

There are several ways you can cut costs and make it more affordable to regularly feed birds mealworms. You can recycle old kitchen dishes and pans and use these in place of buying a dedicated mealworm feeder. Another way to save money is by purchasing larvae in bulk online or from a local bird food supplier. You can even learn how to raise them yourself, so not only will you save some serious cash, but you’ll always have a huge stockpile. For those who have the patience to raise mealworms, doing so is an excellent way to maintain a huge supply of nutritious healthy larvae.

What Birds Eat Mealworms

While there are several species of birds that eat mealworms, below, you’ll find a list of the top species that simply go crazy over them:

  • Kinglets

  • Nuthatches

  • Wrens

  • Titmice

  • Thrushes

  • Chickadees

  • Bluebirds

These are the species of birds that will be the most likely to visit your feeders and eat their fill of mealworms. Many birds consume insects. Keep in mind that not all species of birds eat mealworms exclusively, however, they will try them if another food source is running low and there are fledglings to feed.

Feeding Time

Offer mealworms in a roasted, dried, or live form. As I mentioned earlier, most birds prefer to eat them alive, so live mealworms will help attract hungry birds, however, if you place roasted or dried mealworms in a feeder, birds will discover and consume them eventually. Since they don’t provide complete nutrition for birds, I recommend offering them in limited quantities. Filling up a shallow dish once a day will be sufficient, providing birds with a nice treat without worrying about any leftover mealworms attracting rodents or pests.

Benefits of Serving Mealworms Dried

We’ve gone over how birds tend to prefer eating live mealworms, so are there really any benefits from feeding them the dried variety?

Many birders will serve up live larvae at the beginning of summer in order to help bluebirds and orioles provide nutrition to their fledglings. However, you can serve the dried variety during the winter months, which will provide a reliable food source to a wide variety of backyard birds.

Mixing dried mealworms into your birdseed is very easy and convenient. All you need to do is mix in a small amount with your usual seed mix and place it in a hopper feeder or tray and watch the birds come running. The dried variety if very nutritious and provides the perfect balance of fiber, fat, and protein, which will be essential during the winter. These insects will also help to attract a wider variety of species. Serving them dried with your usual seed mixture will also attract birds that were not attracted by your birdseed alone. During the winter months, there are many birds that will benefit from eating these insects, including:

  • Robins

  • Woodpeckers

  • Nuthatches

  • Cardinals

  • Chickadees

Unlike the live variety, you won’t have to worry about dried mealworms crawling away or spoiling. Using dried mealworms means less maintenance compared to serving up live insects. If you want to get truly creative, visit my guide on homemade bird food recipes, where you’ll find interesting ways to incorporate mealworms into suet, birdseed cakes, and more.

Can You Train Birds to Eat Mealworms Out of Your Hand?

Yes. But while it may be a fun and exciting way to interact with wild birds, it can also be a bad idea since you’re making the birds too tame, which can make them vulnerable to people who mean to do them hard. A bird must maintain some degree of fear of humans in order to survive in the wild. If you do decide to try and get birds to eat mealworms out of your hand, there are safer ways to go about it. Start by placing mealworms in a pan and use a signal to call the birds. This can be in the form of a bell or whistle. Try doing this for three to five days. You’ll sit in a chair and spread a bright cloth on your lap, then place the pan of mealworms on top of it. Allow the birds to eat out of the pan for a few days. Next, you’ll transition to holding the mealworms in your hand, sound the alarm, and wait for your usual guests to show up.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Feed Birds Mealworms?

The fledgling and breeding season is the best time of year to offer mealworms. While it’s true that adults will benefit from eating these insects year-round, this food source will be more beneficial to fledglings and young birds. This is because the larvae are loaded with protein and full of moisture, both of which are crucial to the survival of young birds and birds still in the nest since the only liquid fledglings get is from their parents.

However, as I mentioned earlier in my guide, offering these larvae during the winter months will also be crucial, since many birds struggle to survive harsh winter conditions and find enough food to use as fuel to regulate their body temperature. To learn more about caring for birds during the winter, click here to read my article on where do birds go at night in the winter?

Final Thoughts

Feeding mealworms to birds can provide them with the protein and other nutrients they need in order to thrive, to survive a harsh winter, can give them the fuel they need before migrating, and can be invaluable as a food source for fledglings. With the tips and recommendations I’ve included here, you can choose between dried or live mealworms, raise your own batch, and keep a large stockpile of these larvae on hand to feed your local bird population, year-round.

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