In Defence of the Humble Mealworm!!
By Marcus Pollard
Had a couple of emails and 2 recent phone
calls asking about an article in a magazine that links egg-binding to the
feeding of mealworms that has had a number of people worried/terrified
(??!!) about their live food preferences by the sounds of it.
Firstly I don’t read the magazine in question and, obviously, have not read
the article or in what context it is in, but feel that I can present the
case for the retention of the mealworm as a crucial live food for finches
without too much trouble!
Secondly I feel sure I speak for the author and most other people that have
ever written bird articles when I state that such articles are based on
personal experiences and should not be taken as anything more that that –
the observations of a breeder and their personal preferences. If you wish to
get at the truth then use that experience as a basis for your own research
and then make your own conclusions based upon that research.
We have adopted such an attitude throughout our bird keeping and it has
reaped rewards and, just as often, lead to dead ends - so be prepared to do
your own research no matter what anyone else, including me, tells you!! For
what may work for me may be a dead loss for you as with every investigation
there is any number of variables to be considered – with location top of
Here goes nothing! If you live anywhere on the mainland where termites
abound you can afford to be blasé about the use of mealworms as a live food.
If, on the other hand, you live where I do then you are in trouble because
they just aint there to get – termites that is!!
As I have recently been termite hunting with a well-known Hunter Finch
identity - Sir Nige of Branxton - I can attest to the ease of live food
acquisition for you mainland types – hey, I was even allowed to bang the
termites from the nest into his collecting trays, but the actual breaking of
the nest was deemed “mainland finch keepers work ONLY”!
However, this gent also breeds copious amounts of mealworms to feed to his
birds and as I consider him one of the best in the business who better to
“call to the witness stand” as a character witness for the humble mealie!
“Son, I have birds here that love termites but I have just as many that
prefer mealworms far in advance to anything else I feed in the way of live
food.” With that in mind perhaps the most telling thing is what he, and many
others, actually DO to those mealies before they hit the bird aviaries.
Many moons ago now I had cause to chat with Dr Danny Brown about the pros
and cons of feeding mealworms kept in bran and he convinced me in no
uncertain terms that it was a definite “no-no”! I am not a nutritionist but
the gist of it was that bran causes the production of, or at least the
build-up of, phytic acid in birds which can upset the calcium/phosphorous
balance and actually leech calcium from the birds system. By replacing this
bran with pollard and something he called ‘mill-run’ he stated that the
better nutritional value of the mealworm culture medium will show far
greater benefits in the mealworm – guess in a simple sort of way you are
actually gut-loading the mealworm to benefit your finches.
I also remember a lecture in Hobart given by Mike Fidler where he outlined
the very same nutritional information and when I asked him about keeping
mealies in bran he asked said that was OK as long as I didn’t mind feeding
my birds on cardboard! In other words grow up and do some nutritional
studies my boy!!
The logic behind mill-run and pollard is that they are closer to the
wheat-heart and therefore contain far more nutritional value than the outer
most husk which is bran – hence the ‘cardboard’ connection.
Since that time we have simply sieved out the mealworms from their bran
packaging as soon as they arrive and place them into a medium of pollard –
or if you can afford it wheat-hearts themselves!!!
I also know of other breeders that take this a step further and start
feeding their mealies on egg and biscuit mix and finch crumbles rather than
allowing them to remain in bran.
Chatting about this on the weekend we reckoned that the incidence of
egg-binding even in our “4 seasons in one hour” weather was basically a
rarity these days instead of being the norm as was the case before our ‘time
of enlightenment’! Of course, all of us then proceeded to touch as many
wooden ornaments as we possibly could!!!
no need to drastically alter your live food feeding regimes but maybe it’s
time to turn from the dark side (keeping mealies in bran) and let the Force
guide you towards the light and start keeping those mealies in a far more
Finch keeping is all about problem solving so before hitting the panic
button take a deep breath and start researching the information presented
and then have a look at the way your keep your live food as it may be YOU
that is at fault and NOT the humble mealworm at all for, using the premise
of ‘you are what you eat’ maybe Mike was right in that who really wants to
eat cardboard – not our finches!!
case for the defence rests and let me state that we feed copious amounts of
mealworms here to all our finches.
Perhaps it is not the mealies fault but that of the finch keeper for not
ensuring that the ‘best of everything for the finches’ mind-set extends to
the material that the mealworm contains when fed to those well-pampered
So look at what you feed your finches and contact your friendly avian vet
for even more guidance should you still be concerned before turfing the baby
out with the bath water!!
Hey, if you are still worried you could always invest in some of that
Polly’s Calcium Mix doing the rounds these days on the FSA trade table but
then that would be a blatant plug wouldn’t it – mustn’t do that!!!!
off you go and check everything that I’ve written here and start doing your
own research as it’s the only way to truly get the ‘bigger picture’ of finch
nutrition. If I’ve got it wrong feel free to tell me – as most people are
only too happy to do these days!!!!!!!!
For us termite deprived Taswegian finchos the mealworm is still king and a
“free-man” – acquitted without stain of character.