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May 2022

Flickers Flirting

I was very lucky early this morning to capture a courtship display by two Northern Flickers that have been living near our backyard.

Just love those yellow under-wings....

Sorry for the blurs, but there wasn't much light...

My New Column: Mealworms

My new column for The Record and other USA Today newspapers in New Jersey is all about mealworms. Mmmmmmm.

You can read it below. If you have any mealworm advice, please email me.

By Jim Wright

Special to The Record

    I’ve served all sorts of chow to the birds in my backyard – TheRecordBergenEdition_20220526_LF03_0-page-001suet, sugar water, grape jelly, peanut butter and more seed varieties than Burpee. 

    Until this month, however, I avoided mealworms. They seemed expensive. I didn’t know how to store them or how to dispense them. And I can’t stand their name. 

   Maybe it’s the “worm” part. Maybe the name evokes some sort of intestinal parasite. Maybe it reminds me of mealy bugs – soft-bodied, wingless insects that suck the sap out of plants.

    Nonetheless, I’d heard that bluebirds and other songbirds enjoy a good mealworm or two, and I figured it was time to take my bird-feeding to the next level. 

  Before you, too, take the plunge, here’s a little lesson in Mealworm 101.

   Mealworms come in two basic varieties, squirming and dead. Both have their advantages and drawbacks.

   Let’s start with the alive guys. They come in a pint-sized, refrigerated container with air holes so they can breathe. 

   If you’re wondering whether these worms need to live in the fridge, the answer is yes. Otherwise, they will soon become darkling beetles, and birds don’t cotton to darkling beetles.

  (I also learned that darkling beetles in large numbers are considered invasive. Although some claim that a few of these beetles make good pets when kept in a waterless fish tank, I’ll just take their word for it. But I digress.)

    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, someone in your household isn’t keen on you refrigerating your new mealworm pals next to the lettuce or minestrone soup. You might try Plan B, dried mealworms.

   One company sells them in hermetically sealed plastic bags called “Dried Mealworm Topping,” although you probably wouldn’t want to sprinkle them on your next Caesar salad or bowl of mint chocolate chip.

   The best part about dried mealworms is they are dead mealworms, so they don’t need to take up valuable fridge space.

   The dried mealworms I bought even came with a recipe of sorts: “Simply place the desired amount of Dried Mealworm Topping in a dish, or mix with preferred seed blend. For added moisture and an instant lifelike effect, lightly coat insects with pressed extra-virgin olive oil… Birds will sing with joy.”  

    Already, I was confused. What exactly constitutes a desired amount of mealworm topping? How does one go about lightly coating the dead worms with olive oil? Would non-virgin olive oil do in a pinch?

   After reading the fine print, I breathed a sigh of relief: “Not for human consumption.”

I did find it curious to note that the container of live mealworms, now chilling in the fridge, included no such disclaimer. Just sayin’.

    But the big question is: How would my backyard buddies like them? I guess you’ll have to wait for my next column in two weeks.

   In the meantime, if you’ve tried mealworms (or offered them to birds), email me at [email protected].

   The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday.