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Flying Colors: Bugging the Birds!

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Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.

Who wouldn’t like a healthy meal full of protein? Well maybe you wouldn’t if the meal were live mealworms. But if you are a wild bird surviving in the wilds of Arlington, then you certainly would.

Everyone who enjoys the hobby of backyard bird feeding knows about the different choices of bird foods to offer their backyard visitors. In many yards you will see different feeders offering seed, nuts and suet. But many people are missing out on attracting a much greater variety of birds by not offering bugs, specifically, mealworms.

Mealworms, whether they are alive or dried, offer a tremendous source of protein and fat. During the nesting season, most birds need the protein as they build nests, breed, and raise the chicks in the nests until they fledge. I am sure you are probably saying, “Let them eat all the mosquitos in my yard!” Well, some birds will and do.

But a juicy mealworm is a better meal for the adult and baby birds than a tiny mosquito. It would be like comparing going to dinner at Ruth Chris’ to 7-Eleven. At least, that is what the birds told me.

Here is the great thing about offering a feeder filled with dried and live mealworms. During the migration season of the songbirds, which is occurring now, you have the opportunity to try and attract 20-30 different species of birds that do not eat seeds. For the next two months, warblers, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers and other birds will be migrating through our yards and parks. When they travel, they use up a lot of energy.

So a quick and easy rest stop at a new restaurant will be very attractive to them. Mealworms are the larvae of the non-flying beetles. When offering them in feeders, they mimic natural insects. This is just too good to pass up for birds.

Offering this as an add on to their other bird foods, give the birds a good source of fat and protein. Live mealworms provide approximately 22 percent fat and 18 percent protein. Dried mealworms provide the birds 32 percent fat and 49 percent protein. Whereas live mealworms are more attractive to the birds than the dried mealworms, the dried mealworms are easily added to other foods for the birds to eat. Most insect eating migratory birds readily eat this live treat.

When feeding live mealworms, you will need to use a feeder with slippery sides. There are many styles made of wood, plastic, metal and glass. The slippery sides prevent them from climbing out. In my yard, I will put out 50 or so at a time. This feeder is close to my sliding glass doors in my back office and offers me a great view of the birds. The smaller bird feeders help to prevent the bigger birds, like the European Starlings, from dominating the feeders.

Mealworms typically come in containers of 500 worms. They can be kept in your refrigerator for up to a couple of months. Even if your significant other sleepwalks and raids the refrigerator for a midnight snack and grabs a handful, they will be fine. Some cultures eat mealworms regularly as a snack.

Feeding mealworms is part of the “new school” of bird feeding. When you stop in, we will help you understand this new way of feeding to see how you can incorporate “mealworms” in your bird feeding stations. We carry a variety of glass feeders and trays to get you started. Live and dry mealworms work well in these feeders.

Don’t miss out on this great chance to feed this unique food to the breeding and migratory birds.

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