Friday, December 11, 2009

Mealworms for the Birds

This time of year I try to make an extra effort to put out mealworms form the birds that visit my yard.  Most people put out suet and seeds both of which are great but the mealworms are a special treat. Since it is so cold out now they don't crawl away and stay ready for hungry birds. If I know it is going to be a bad night I am sure to put some out as a bird snack before bedtime. Buying mealworms can get pretty expensive so I raise my own using the techniques that a good friend of mine gave me.  Below are instructions for raising them.

My friend’s recipe for Mealworm Food for Birds.
1 part Chick Feed mixed with
1 part Wheat Bran

You can buy the feed and wheat bran at feed stores like Southern States and the mealworms at any pet store or some place they sell fish bate. One small container of 100 is enough to get you started.

Mealworms are best raised in a plastic container. She suggests one of those plastic shoe boxes with the lids. But you don’t need the lid. Fill it about 1/3 full (about 2” deep) with the mixture. Sometime I just use Wheat Bran and that work fine. Cut an apple in half and put on top of the mixture with the cut side down. This provides the needed moisture. Top with about four layers of newspaper or brown paper. I most often use a left over napkin from some fast food establishment that I snuck into hoping my friends didn’t spot my lapse in judgment. You will discover that the worms like to hide in the paper. If you add the box lid, be sure to cut the center out (for air) and maybe tape some screen over it. This will keep any beetles from escaping. I just leave mine open because the beetle aren’t too adventuresome but if you have other animals the lid will help to keep them out.

There are 3 stages to the life of mealworm: the worm, the larva and then the beetle.

Place the worms on top of your mixture and just wait. As they grow they will keep shedding the old skin. Soon they will turn into larva stage and shortly after that they will be beetles. The beetles are the ones that mate and lay eggs. After awhile they will die and then the worms will continue to grow and the whole process starts again. Initially the worms are about the size of an “l” but they will grow. Resist the temptation to give up; it takes a few months before you have a good size colony that you can use to feed your birds in the winter or spring. Always remember to leave a few worms for the next generation.

To feed the birds, just grab a few of the worms. Go ahead, they are not slimy and will not bite and actually have a clean feel to them. I place mine on the deck railing and some on the deck for the birds to find. My friend puts them on a tray just outside of her kitchen window so when the birds come they are right there for her to see and photograph. Birds are suckers for these worms especially in the winter when fat is needed to keep them warm. Also they carry off mouthfuls for their young in the spring.

You can tell when the mixture needs to be changed when the bottom half of if is very fine in texture, almost like beige coffee grounds. This is the food that has been digested/processed. Sometimes a slight ammonia smell is present when the bulk of the mix is fras. I may do this once a year but not really very often. You will need to sift out all the mealworms, larva and beetles along with the unprocessed food mixture and toss the fras. Wash the box, add new mix, and return everything else. New apples can be added at any time, after they have been used up. This is a great way to use up old, soft apples that normally get tossed out.

Good luck.

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Ted C. MacRae said...

Great idea for feeding birds, and great instructions for rearing mealworms.

Gaelyn said...

Great post but I think I'll stick to seed. I remember raising mealworms as a school project and they were very prolific. It's a nice treat for the birds.

squirrel said...

Ted and Gaelyn, they are fun to raise and prolific as you said. I am able to give big hand fulls to the birds. When I have friends over I make sure I put some out because the birds show up in droves.

eileeninmd said...

Great instructions for raising the mealworms. I do feed the bluebirds mealworm. usually I buy a large amount online. Maybe I should try raising my own mealworms.

Barbara Bash said...

My whole relationship to mealworms has been
feeding them to my son's leopard geckos for
the past 15 years (turns out leopard geckos are
very long lived !) This is a whole new usage -
thanks for the idea - and thanks for all your sweet comments on my blog - deeply appreciated !

squirrel said...

Eileen, You shoud give it a go. If you have any questions just email me and I will try to explain further.

Barbara, so you know they are easy to raise. In the spring I really enjoy watching the parents stuff as many as they can into their mouths and flying off. Some times it is a comedy or errors watching them. Enjoy.