I’ve offered dried mealworms in my yard for a while now, but not in a big way. I would casually toss a small handful into the nearest brush pile each morning for the Carolina Wrens who seem to love them. Because I would gather the mealworms and peanuts in the same little basket to take outside each day, inevitably a few mealworms would wind up in the platform feeder with the peanuts and the Blue Jays would often snap them up after they’d cleaned out the peanuts . . . but then the Eastern Bluebirds appeared in the yard, and I got serious about the dried mealworms!
The bluebirds appeared in the final days of winter when there didn’t seem to be a lot of native food around and I think they were really hungry. So they nibbled on the suet and and the occasional sunflower heart and then discovered the odd dried mealworms in the platform feeder. I was so thrilled with their surprising presence that I sprinkled more and more in the various feeders.
The reason this seemed necessary is that European Starlings apparently love these things obsessively and would drive the bluebirds and any other bird in the feeder away to gobble up mealworms. Starlings are hard to drive away when they are focused on something, so thinking to give the bluebirds more of a chance, I eventually had them in four feeders. But that just spread the starling pain out more and encouraged more starlings.
I still want to offer it, but not in such large quantities (it’s more of a snack than a balanced meal for birds anyway) but I needed to get it contained to at least slow down the starlings. I’ve been noticing that starlings can have trouble dealing with tube feeder ports, so it occurred to me that if I could find a really small tube feeder, I might put a cup of the mealworms in it, slow down the starlings and give the bluebirds a chance. Enter the Squirrel Buster Standard feeder.
The Squirrel Buster Standard is a very small feeder – only about 11” tall (around 21″ if you include the attached hanger portion.) It holds ¾ quart or 1.3 pounds of seed. I planned to hang it on a baffled shepherd’s hook pole, so it didn’t really need to be squirrel proof, but this feeder is weight activated to close the ports when something heavy lands on it and I wanted that feature. I set it all the way up to try and block out bigger birds, hoping that I could deny the starlings but let the smaller bluebirds and wrens eat.
I’ve had the Squirrel Buster Plus version of this feeder for years and to be honest, while it is brilliant at blocking out squirrels, I’ve never had consistent luck in setting it to block out larger birds and a starling is a more medium weight bird as feeder birds go. Even set all the way up, a starling’s weight closes it anywhere from half to three quarters of the way and never fully. I think it may depend on the individual bird’s weight, how forcefully the bird lands on the feeder, whether they are flapping their wings and/or maybe even how they position themselves on the perch. I’m not sure if the weight of the feeder contents makes a difference. The starlings can usually just barely poke their beaks in to pull out bits of mealworms. Because they are (I swear!) the messiest eaters in the backyard bird world, most of the mealworms they can get out wind up on the ground below instead of in their mouths. If more than one shows up and lands on the feeder, it does close and they get none.
So it is not a full success, but it has slowed the starlings WAY down and they tend to eat just a little bit for a few minutes, pulling some out of the feeder and then off the ground below and then they give up for awhile. They come back, but they don’t stay and eat until it is all gone they way they do if you put mealworms out in a platform feeder. (This is similar to what happens if you put suet in an upside-down feeder; starlings will learn to dangle on it briefly and get some, but don’t stay long enough to eat every last bit of it.)
(Please note that these are DRIED mealworms. I don’t know that this would work for live mealworms. I suspect they could crawl out!)
But what about the bluebirds and the wrens? Will they use this feeder? Yes. A Carolina Wren figured it out pretty quickly the first day the feeder was up. Wrens began stopping by to grab one or two every now and then that first day.
The bluebirds took a little longer to catch on. They’ve been watching me put mealworms out in the platform feeders all along, so I made a point to show them I was putting mealworms into the new feeder when they were sitting up on a branch looking down at me. One of the females finally caught on later the first day but the males weren’t going for it.
Even on the second day, the males would come up to the feeder (which is right next to the platform feeder where they used to get mealworms) and look around and then poke around on the ground for bits of mealworms that the starling dropped. Finally though, late in the day, they started giving the feeder a try and have eaten from it a number of times since then. Yes!
We’ll see what happens over time but so far so good! The starlings still get into the mealworms and they still chase the bluebirds away from the feeder, but the bluebirds and wrens now have greater windows of time when they can snag some of the mealworms and that makes me (and them) happy.
Update: It’s two days later and the bluebirds, wrens and the starlings stop by regularly for mealworms. I had this feeder on the same dual shepherd’s hook feeder with a platform feeder and a tube feeder but have decided that all the busy activity at the mealworm feeder was disrupting the use of the other two feeders.
After trying several variations on arranging the three feeders on the same pole, I finally decided to move the mealworm feeder off by itself. It is now hanging from a tree limb with an Erva disk baffle over it. (It should be squirrel proof but the baffle should keep the squirrels from learning this lesson.)
The bluebirds watched me move the feeder and went to it as soon as I moved away from it. I think this is going to work out better. Where before they had to first land on one of the other two feeders to get to the mealworm feeder, now they can more easily fly right to it. Getting the crazy starlings pointed in a different direction should quiet things down on the other two feeders which should be easier on the Northern Cardinals and House Finches who have been trying to use them.
Update: If more than one starling arrives at the same time, they bicker and get into prolonged mid-air fights over access. Some starlings have figured out how to poke their beak into the gap and then open it wide to push the feeder shroud up temporarily. If they are quick, they can grab a mealworm before the shroud comes back down.
Even so, the starlings are still not there all the time and do leave windows for the other birds to use the feeder. I am experimenting with making the ports a little smaller to see if that will discourage them more.
(Note: I’ll post a separate review of the feeder itself soon.)
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