Tips on feeding bluebirds include offering mealworms.

Feeding Bluebirds

Tips on feeding bluebirds include offering mealworms.
As insect-eaters, bluebirds are attracted by mealworms. Photo by Bill Thompson, III.

If you are lucky enough to have one or more of these lovely blue-colored thrushes visiting your property, you are the envy of bluebird-less bird watchers everywhere. We have eastern bluebirds on our farm all year ’round. In the spring and summer we watch them courting and nesting and feeding their young. In the winter we watch for their family foraging flocks to visit our meadow on sunny days, and our suet dough feeders when the weather gets bad.

Eastern bluebirds are found in the East. Western and mountain bluebirds are found in the West. A few fortunate birders along the western edge of the Great Plains can see all three bluebirds. Being insect eaters for most of the year, bluebirds are not naturally inclined to visit bird feeders. In fact, the best way to have a close relationship with bluebirds is by providing proper and safe nesting cavities for them in the form of bird houses.

In fact, our bluebirds were nearly wiped out during the middle of the 20th century due to the combined effects of increased pesticide use and increased competition for scarce nesting cavities from house sparrows and European starlings. A determined effort by a small number of bluebird enthusiasts forced the bluebirds’ plight into the national spotlight. As a result, more North Americans began providing nest boxes for bluebirds and protecting their “tenants” from the dangers or weather, predators, and competitors. Today the populations of all three species are healthy and even growing.

Bluebirds will eat the following offerings at feeders: Mealworms, suet dough, fruit, and sunflower bits. They will also consume eggshell bits during spring and summer when the females especially need extra calcium for egg production.

Mealworms

Mealworms are not really worms. They are the larval form of a harmless, small black beetle. Feeding mealworms to wild birds has become a big trend in bird feeding. For insect eaters, finding a bowl of squirmy, plump mealworms on a cold winter day is a food source that is too good to pass up. Bluebirds seem to LOVE mealworms, and will really key into your feeder if you offer them this specialty food.

You can buy mealworms at pet or bait stores, but most bird watchers order them in bulk (1,000 or more mealworms) from mealworm growers. Mealworms can be kept in a plastic container filled with a few inches of old-fashioned oats. Add a few slices of apple and a few small carrots for moisture and food for the “mealies” and you’ll have weeks or even months of them to offer to your birds.

We feed mealworms to our birds in a ceramic dog dish on our deck railing. The slick finish and vertical sides keep the mealies from climbing out. The width and weight of the dog dish make it stable for several birds to feed at once.

Too Much of a Good Thing

One summer, early in our mealworm feeding days, we offered our front yard bluebird pair all the mealies they could eat. They produced four large broods of young that summer, in response to the super-abundant food source. By September, the female looked ragged and worn because she was! We felt really bad that we’d encouraged them to such extraordinary feats of reproduction and we swore right then to be more careful. Now we only offer a small handful of mealworms in the morning, and perhaps a bit more in really bad weather when insects are scarce.

This holds true for any high-protein or high-fat bird food, including suet and suet dough. You should not offer your birds too much of a good thing.

Suet Dough

We offer our favorite recipe for crumbly suet dough all year ’round. Our bluebirds eat it most avidly in winter. We offer it in similar fashion to mealworms, in a dog dish one or two handfuls at a time. We make suet dough in huge batches in winter and have more than 20 species that come in to eat it on a regular basis.

Combine and melt in the microwave or over low heat:

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup lard

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

  • 2 cups unmedicated chick starter, available at farm/feed stores
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour

Add melted lard/peanut butter mixture to the combined dry ingredients and mix well. When cool, crumble and serve in a shallow dish, protected from rain. Store in peanut butter jars. Does not require refrigeration.

7 thoughts on “Feeding Bluebirds”

  1. I am one of the lucky ones to have Western Blues come to my feeder! When I lived in North Carolina, I had the Eastern’s and I had a meal worm farm in my garage to feed them the best! It’s too hot here to have a meal worm farm in the garage, temps in the summer hit over 115* some days. BUT. . . I do make the suet for them and make it into ‘crumbles’ for them and I use a Wild Birds Unlimited Dome feeder. They are here most of the year, but right now, they must be nesting because they aren’t here much recently. However, they ALWAYS bring those fledglings to my house and the little’s sit on a perch while mom and dad go get a morsel for them and bring to them to feed them! Here’s a photo! I love my blues!!

  2. Often, during nesting, the parent bluebirds will eat the mealworms without giving them to their babies (probably not enough water). Still, it kept the parents from having to do twice the work to provide for both themselves and the babies.

    1. hey Steve, I also use the dried mealworms and yes, at first the bluebirds didn’t take to them. I eventually sprinkled a few in my backyard birdbath and now THAT is my resident bluebirds’ favorite feeder. I’m not sure if the mealworms being in the water makes them appear alive or if it simply adds moisture but whatever the reason, it did the trick.
      Note- the bath/feeder water has to be changed daily because it can get gross
      :)

  3. I love my bluebirds. I had to replace my posts and nesting boxes because of age. Within 24 hours, I had male and a female checking out the box.

  4. I live in Minnesota and my boyfriend found a bluebird with a broken wing by my road, should i take it in and take care of it and feed them meal worms? I am not sure on how to go with this situation and feel bad if I need to put him down.

    1. Hi Kayla, The bird’s very best chance of survival is if you take it to a licensed wildlife rehabber. You didn’t say where you live in Minnesota, so I recommend you contact the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, https://www.wrcmn.org. The center is open form 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and ought to be able to refer you to a licensed songbird rehabber near you. Call them at 651-486-9453 to ask for advice. A licensed rehabber has the resources to fix broken wings. You and your boyfriend don’t. Please involve a rehabber at once. Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

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