The breeding season of April - July is a great time to feed live foods to your garden birds, if you don't already!
Of the many varieties of garden birds whose numbers are in decline in the UK, it is the insectivores who are the worst hit. The lack of mature, native trees in our gardens, and ever-decreasing areas of natural woodland, means that birds are not provided with the insects they need to feed their young, resulting in fewer eggs and fledglings. This makes live foods a more conscientious choice, particularly in colder weather when insects will hide away in warm places, and especially when you consider that the birds' activity rate during the breeding season can be 100 times greater than during the Winter months.
Live mealworms and wax worms are easily-digestible, with a high moisture content which is essential for fledglings who cannot leave the nest to drink. Other sources of moisture for them include unripe seeds, earthworms and caterpillars, but there is growing evidence to show that the peak time for earthworms and caterpillars is possibly earlier than the peak fledgling explosion, so live mealworms and wax worms are a great option to bridge that gap. It has been proven that feeding live foods can have a significant positive effect on the number of chicks reared by their parents.
They are also rich in essential protein (50.4%), very safe to feed due to their vegetarian diet (no spread of nasty diseases), and are much easier to store and use than you might think.
If the mealworms come supplied in a tub then it should already have a ventilated lid and have some bran inside to keep them going, so you can just keep them cool until you're ready to use them - ideally 8-10 degrees C. They can go in the fridge (although much less than 5 degrees C will kill them), but this can make them a bit dormant and less wriggly - and it's the wriggling which attracts the birds' keen eye. Temperatures above 22 degrees C will make them pupate very quickly.
They do not need light - in fact dark is good - and if you notice their food has depleted then you can add a bit of carrot or potato peelings, oats or apple. They can be kept this way for several months at the correct temperature.
Bulk bags of live worms are more economical, but need to be unpacked on arrival. They can be stored in a large open plastic container such as a cat litter tray or similar, at a maximum depth of 1". There is no need for a lid as long as the sides are deep and clean, and the container is placed somewhere where it won't be knocked over!
Here is a very informative Q&A from our founder and resident vet, Lesley:
Q. Which birds eat live mealworms?
A. Well - the insect and invertebrate eaters! Robins, sparrows, tits, starlings, blackbirds, wrens and thrushes.
Q. What are live mealworms?
A. They are the larvae of the Flour Beetle (tenebrio molitor) - a native British insect which eats flour, meal, grain and other related crops. They are vegetarian, which is important because when fresh, they don't smell!
Q. Where do your live mealworms come from?
A. Our live mealworms are grown in the UK for us and are British bred! There are many companies importing mealworms from Europe, however ours will be fresher as they won't have travelled far.
Q. If I order some, what can I expect to receive?
A. Live mealworms are delivered by Royal Mail. They will arrive in a cardboard box and within the box will be either some plastic tubs, or larger quantities within a white polypropylene bag with a cable-tied top. Please don't worry if the plastic tubs don't have air holes punched in them - the lids are made of breathable material so the mealworms will be fine.
Q. Do the mealworms smell?
A. No! There is no smell given off by mealworms if they are kept in the correct conditions. There will be some bran or clean newspaper in with them when they arrive. For those that are in tubs, you need to do nothing. If you have bought a larger sack of them, we would suggest transferring them into a shallow, smooth-sided tray or tub.
Q. How long will they last?
A. Being larvae, their longevity is dependent on the conditions and temperature they are stored at. The cooler they are the longer they will last. If you find that there is a lot of black poo appearing, the chances are it is too warm for them or they are too deep in their container.
Q. If I order them today, when will I receive them?
A. All live foods are sent by Royal Mail. They therefore take 3-5 working days and will arrive separately from the rest of your Really Wild Bird Food order (which should arrive next working day). Orders received before 12.00 on Monday to Thursday will be dispatched on the same day. Orders received on a Friday to Sunday will be dispatched on the following Monday. We are ultra careful around bank holidays (especially during the warm Summer months) - in case they get held up in a warm sorting office somewhere, speeding up their metamorphosis. Please order a few days earlier around a bank holiday.
Q. I would like to receive a regular weekly order, can you do this?
A. Of course! We have many customers who request that we send out scheduled live mealworms to them, either on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Please just give us a call or email us with your request.
Q. What sort of feeder should I offer live mealworms in?
A. They need to be contained in a smooth steep-sided container (otherwise you will find they wriggle up and out and will be gone in a flash!). Ideally something with a roof/overhang to protect them from the rain and sun and drainage holes if there is no roof. Windows feeders lend themselves to mealworms, and it's fab to get a really close-up view of your robin and other smalls birds visiting. Caged feeders are also useful since they limit access to the bigger birds which can devour a whole pot in an instant!