Birds & Blooms

Mealworms on the Menu

Add this versatile, protein-packed snack to your backyard offerings.


For most backyard birders, there’s nothing quite like the rush of spotting a new species or flock at the feeder. To double down on the excitement and potentiall­y attract even more, mealworms are the golden ticket.

“Take a handful of mealworms, toss them out and have the birds trained,” says John Schaust, chief naturalist at Wild Birds Unlimited, a retailer that trains its staff on how to attract local birds. “I’ve seen photograph­s, especially with the eastern bluebird, where customers have about 25 bluebirds on their deck in the backyard.”

Served alive or dried, these protein-rich snacks (which are actually beetle larvae) help birds get the sustenance they need to survive harsh conditions and thrive during the breeding season. Sure, store-bought seeds provide much-needed nutrients, but it’s hard to beat the benefits of bugs.

These mouthwater­ing tidbits attract birds of all sorts: wrens, nuthatches, woodpecker­s and more. And seeing as how most birds feed insects to their young, these grubs are a simple way to build up your backyard buffet.

Start by putting out a handful in the morning and evening—about 50 to 100 per day—and keep your eyes open for a feeding frenzy. John recommends starting small, for a budget-friendly treat, and mixing the mealworms with other food sources. Just as humans need a well-balanced diet, birds do, too.

Live and Ready

You can buy live grubs by the thousand and keep them fresh in the fridge up to six months. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, a decades-old small business that raises and sells its own worms, recommends that beginners buy the medium-sized larvae, about 1/2 to 1 inch in length, to attract the most species.

“Put the mealworms in a shallow Tupperware container filled with about 2 inches of dry oatmeal, and drill a hole or two in the lid,” says Hana Yanello, a farm team member at Uncle Jim’s. “Feed them apple and carrot slices, and potato wedges. They’ll stay nice and happy.”

It’s important to select a slick, shallow cup, so they can’t climb out. Every worm is a potential meal!

Dried, Tried and True

Dried mealworms are the most cost-friendly and convenient option. However, without the bug’s natural movement to attract a bird’s eye, it may take time to train your flying friends how to eat this snack. Instead of scattering dried grubs on the ground, try to incorporat­e the larvae into feeders with seed mixes that are already hanging up.

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