Thursday, March 2, 2023

I Tried Feeding Birds Mealworms! (How-to)

I've heard about it for years. So, I finally tried it. Yes, I fed birds mealworms at my feeder!

Mealworms are most often associated with bluebirds. Many people feed mealworms to nesting bluebirds.

I don't have bluebirds in town. And it is winter now. So, I wondered what other birds would like them. It turns out they were fairly popular with some of the resident birds in my yard. I'll tell you more about them, below. But first...

What are mealworms, anyway?

Mealworms are the larval form of the yellow mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor). This Wikipedia page gives more details. These larvae are used as pet food for reptiles, fish, and birds. 

Humans also eat them. Historically they were consumed in Southeast Asia. Today you may find them marketed as Insect Burgers. That's all I'm going to say about this aspect of mealworms.

The mealworms are yellow-brown and segmented. They have a head on one side and some legs.

Photo of Curve-billed Thrasher eating mealworm
Curve-billed Thrasher eating mealworm. Greg Gillson

Why feed birds mealworms?

As mentioned, many people feed mealworms to bluebirds as an additional source of nutrition for the breeding pair and their nestlings.

The adults will eat dried mealworms all year. The parents will feed live mealworms to their nestlings.

Mealworms will attract other birds that normally wouldn't come to feeders. Thrushes and robins, wrens, thrashers, and other insect eating birds may also eat mealworms.

Mealworms are fed to birds either live or dried

I bought both live mealworms and dried mealworms to feed to birds at my feeder.

Live mealworms are harder to care for and store (see next subheading). 

Dried mealworms are easy. They came in a zip-lock bag.

Do birds prefer live mealworms or dried mealworms?

Birds at my feeder ate both live mealworms and dried mealworms. The Curve-billed Thrashers especially loved the live mealworms. The Gila Woodpeckers seemed to prefer the dried mealworms.

During the nesting season, I expect that live mealworms will be preferred for the parents to feed their nestlings.

Are mealworms good for birds?

Yes, both live mealworms and dried mealworms are a nutritious source of protein for birds. They also contain fat and fiber.

Storing live mealworms

I bought 1000 live mealworms from Bassett's Cricket Ranch on Amazon (affiliate link). They arrived in the mailbox. I'm sure they would have died quickly in summer heat (keep below 85F). They came in a cloth bag in a small cardboard box. Inside was a piece of paper egg carton and some oat bran, and all the mealworms.

These mealworms must be stored in the refrigerator to slow their metabolism. They can live 2 weeks this way. If you warm them to room temperature and feed them oat meal with a slice of potato or apple, they will live another 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

I cleaned out the crisper in the fridge and stored the mealworms in the shipping box for the 2 weeks that I fed them to birds.

How do you feed mealworms to birds?

Photo of feeding birds mealworms in bowl
Mealworms in bowl.

You feed live mealworms to birds a bit differently than feeding birds dried mealworms.

If I was trying to feed mealworms to smaller birds, then I'd look for a bird feeder made to keep out larger birds.

Here's an enclosed feeder that will keep out larger birds


Feeding birds live mealworms

Remove a quantity of live mealworms from the refrigerator. Place in a steep-sided bowl. Allow them to warm to room temperature. 

I used a soup bowl at first. Later I found a small clear glass jelly bowl. It needs to be steep-sided and smooth glass because the worms could crawl out, otherwise.

I placed the glass feeding bowl in the shade on the ground, as I don't have a platform feeder, which would have been better.

At first, I placed only a dozen mealworms out at once. I wasn't sure how the birds would take to them. It turns out that it took only 5 minutes for the thrashers to inspect and gobble them down. Expect to go through a hundred per day.

At the end of 2 weeks, when the mealworms were nearing the end of their refrigerator storage limit (and Marlene was wanting her refrigerator drawer back), I then put out a couple hundred at once. They lasted overnight. But I would recommend only feeding what the birds could eat in a couple of hours. I don't want to attract other animals.

Feeding birds dried mealworms

Feeding dried mealworms to birds is easy. Place a quantity in a bowl or on a platform feeder. 

Dried mealworms may be mixed with other bird seed in a hopper feeder (but not a tube feeder).

Some people briefly soak the dried mealworms in water before feeding to birds. This rehydrates them and makes them soft. 

What kind of birds eat mealworms?

Mealworms are especially fed in bird feeders to attract both Eastern and Western Bluebirds.

In my Arizona yard in winter, I saw Curve-billed Thrashers and Gila Woodpeckers eat mealworms. I'm not sure the Cactus Wren ever got a bite. The other two birds are larger and more aggressive. The Cactus Wrens usually only visit when the feeders are quiet.

Interestingly, finches will not eat animal food. My mealworms were ignored by House Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Mourning Doves. However, the sparrows may switch to mealworms when feeding nestlings in spring.

Photo of Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker. Greg Gillson

Woodpeckers eat mealworms. My Gila Woodpeckers loved the dried mealworms. I expect the very similar Red-bellied Woodpeckers would eat them too. I'm sure all woodpeckers would eat them. Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers visit feeders.

Photo of Western Bluebird
Western Bluebird. Greg Gillson

Bluebirds, robins, and thrushes eat mealworms. Eastern Bluebird, Western Bluebird, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush.

Thrashers eat mealworms. Curve-billed Thrashers in the West and Brown Thrashers in the East often visit feeders. Northern Mockingbirds, too.

Chickadees and Titmice eat mealworms. Black-capped Chickadees, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice are the most common at feeders. Nuthatches, too: Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch.

Photo of Bewick's Wren
Bewick's Wren. Greg Gillson

Wrens eat mealworms: Carolina Wren, Bewick's Wren, Cactus Wren, House Wren frequent backyards in various parts of the United States.

WARNING: Starlings, blackbirds, crows, jays will eat mealworms. Thus, some kind of covered mealworm feeder would be a good idea to keep these large birds from gobbling up the expensive mealworms. Check out these various mealworm feeders on Amazon (affiliate link).

Some great tips for feeding birds mealworms are here:

Related articles

Feeding Birds Suet


  1. It’s great to see such detailed information. The article shared in great detail what I was looking for.


January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:


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