Feeding Mealworms To Birds (The Ultimate Guide)


Because of their protein content, mealworms are an important food for birds in the wild. You can help them get that food and develop their muscles by feeding mealworms to birds.

If you haven’t done this before, you’re probably wondering just why are mealworms healthy, are live mealworms better than dried mealworms, and when should you feed them to birds.

Find the answers to these, and many other questions, below.

What Are Mealworms?

Mealworms are actually beetles, only in an early larval stage.

If you bought live mealworms and kept them alive at room temperature, they’d develop into beetles.

Aside from being a popular pet food, they’re also known as grain pests and even human food in some cultures.

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Are Mealworms Healthy For Birds?

Mealworms are healthy pet food, fed not only to birds, but to reptiles, fish, and amphibians, too. If you get your mealworms from a reputable source, there’s no reason for them to be unhealthy.

In the wild, animals eat worms all the time, and there’s no quality control to ensure that they’re safe to eat.

They’re very nutritious, with dry mealworms consisting of 53% protein, 28% fat, and 6% moisture.

Live mealworms have less protein and much more moisture, so they’re a great source of water for birds (as they get a lot of their water from food).

If the birds in your yard don’t like dry mealworms, you can rehydrate them by putting them in shallow, warm water.

What’s The Best Time To Offer Mealworms To Birds?

It’d be great if mealworms were available to birds throughout the entire year. The only time when they’re not the best food is in the winter.

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As you can see from the nutritional breakdown above, mealworms are very rich in protein, but not so much in fat.

When the temperatures drop, birds that don’t migrate need to build up fat, which they’ll later burn to control their core temperature.

Suet cakes are by far the best food in that regard, as they consist almost exclusively of processed fat. Seeds are also superior to mealworms, as 100 grams of sunflower seeds contain more than 50 grams of fat.

When you put winter aside, though, mealworms are a great food. They’re especially important during the breeding season (which can last from February to October, depending on the species).

Young birds need plenty of protein to grow their muscles, and since they can’t leave the nest to drink water, they get all their water from food. Live worms are more than 60% moisture, so it’d be best to keep live worms in your feeders if possible.

Even if that isn’t an option, you can simply rehydrate dry worms to secure the water for the chicks.

Another thing to keep in mind is molting, which is the process of shedding feathers. Similar to how snakes change skin, birds change feathers once a year.

This requires plenty of protein, which you can provide through mealworms.

Which Birds Eat Mealworms?

The most common birds that eat mealworms are American robins, titmice, various species of jays, bushtits, chickadees, various species of woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, and bluebirds.

Some larger and more aggressive species, such as magpies, might also be attracted by the mealworms in your feeders, which is going to cause a problem.

Larger birds easily bully smaller birds away from food sources.

There is, unfortunately, no guaranteed solution to this problem and it’s something that comes with the territory.

Strangers on the Internet might advise you to hang CDs or make a scarecrow to scare the big bullies away.

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However, that won’t work because:

  1. Magpies, crows, and ravens are the most intelligent birds you’ll come across and they’ll quickly realize that there’s no real threat; and
  2. If those things actually do scare them away, what makes you think they won’t scare away the small birds?

Buying squirrel-proof small bird feeders might do the trick, though.

These feeders are designed to only be accessed by birds with small beaks, so a magpie will hopefully get annoyed at being unable to eat anything and it’ll leave.

Unfortunately, these feeders aren’t an option for live worms as they’ll simply wiggle out through the small slits.

How To Serve Mealworms

You can serve dried mealworms in any type of feeder that will fit them (without causing a jam). Live worms, however, require platform feeders with tall edges.

You can use something as simple as a bowl (if you don’t mind the birds destroying your bowl), or you can buy a platform feeder with tall edges.

Live mealworms can’t climb very well, but they’re definitely capable of climbing over a 1-inch tall fence. This presents a problem we’ve spoken about in the previous section – large birds can easily access these feeders.

A better, although not a perfect solution, is using caged platform feeders.

These feeders are classic platform feeders, but they’re encaged, with the metal cage slits being just large enough for smaller birds to squeeze through, but small enough to keep the larger birds out.

While this is a 100% big-bully-bird-proof solution for serving mealworms, it also severely limits the visibility of the mealworms, so you can expect less traffic on your feeder.

Storing Mealworms

Mealworms are easy to store – dry mealworms don’t go bad quickly and you can keep them in a closed container for months, as long as they’re in a cool, dark spot.

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Live worms need a bit more care as you need them to go dormant (otherwise they’ll turn into beetles). They need to be kept in a dark place, at a temperature between 41 and 50°F.

After about three weeks, live mealworms will go bad, so you should plan your storage accordingly.

Mealworms Are More Difficult To Find Nowadays

Because of our constant spreading and destruction (or adaptation) of the environment to our needs, we’re limiting the amount of food that birds can find naturally.

This applies to worms, as well. Although they’re normally abundant, people have replaced forests and meadows with cities and suburbs, so there are now fewer mealworms in the wild.

There are also fewer mealworms in our yards and gardens

Meticulously mown and aerated lawns are kind on the eyes, but they’re severely limiting for underground organisms, which includes many worms that birds would normally find in the topsoil.

On top of that, we spray everything with pesticides to kill the pests in our gardens.

By filling your feeders with mealworms, you’re compensating for the damage done and you’re making the lives of these birds a little bit easier.

Get Our FREE Bird Feeder Cheat Sheet
Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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