I once ordered 5,000 mealworms from a company called Grubco, Inc. in Minnesota. When the UPS Lady delivered them she said “I’ve carried a lot of different stuff in my time, but never had the contents try to escape!” The worms were packed in a burlap sack filled with sawdust and tied with string. Some of the wily creatures had made a break for it and the UPS Lady had quite the time chasing them down.
Mealworms have a long life cycle, transforming from larva or worm to pupa to darkling beetle to egg to larva again. The whole thing takes almost a year. And it is important not to keep your mealworms in Styrofoam containers—they will eat through it and then you have another jail-break on your hands. So now I keep my worms in old enamel pots, half filled with oatmeal and a newspaper folded on top of the oatmeal. They feast on the oatmeal, the newspaper and the occasional apple core that I put in for their moisture needs.
You’re probably thinking that I keep these worms as some culinary condiment like fried bacon sprinkled on a salad, eh? Actually, I keep these worms for My Birds. (I admit that I am very possessive of My Birds. I would name them individually if I could only tell them apart!)
Unlike good mothers, I play favorites. Bluebirds and Carolina Wrens are first on my list. I think it must be their feisty attitudes that attracts me. They are aggressive without being nasty although one time when my husband, David, rescued three newly fledged Bluebirds that were being pursued on the ground by a black snake, the parents rewarded him by pooping on his car windshield. I equate that though with the cat laying a dead mouse on your welcome mat. Intimate presents.
Anyway, I digress. Much to my chagrin, the Bluebirds have forsaken us but the Carolina Wrens have not. I am convinced that one pair is actually my parents reincarnated so I call them Ruth and Ernie after my mother and fa-ther. Ruth and Ernie sometimes come close to our bedroom window, especially on sunny spring mornings, and loudly—repeatedly—chirp. I hear them telling me to get up, get up, get up, just as my father used to: “get up or the sun will burn a hole in your [you know what]!”
This winter the Wrens have been especially greedy. They come to the window feeders which are filled with sunflower seeds; they attack the suet (which this time around is frozen scrapple that a ‘good old boy’ friend gave us and I couldn’t bring myself to eat); and then there is the domed worm feeder. Each morning they are there at first light looking for their fresh mealworms. They get right down on the floor of the tray, picking through the bits of old oatmeal and other detritus. And they are demanding: as if they are saying “Why don’t you have the worms out yet?” In that case, Mr. Wren will visit the cat bowl outside the back door and pick about until he finds the right sized morsel, spreading bits of cat food about on the ledge as he searches.
When it comes to food, animals and birds alike are definitely of the “Me First” school. It is only in the human world that we expect one to have manners, share and share alike, hold the door for ladies, and all that, projecting our expectations on the non-human world. My Wrens subscribe to the “move your feet, lose your seat” philosophy.
The other day I watched a Chickadee come to the worm feeder and very politely select one worm and fly away to enjoy its savory qualities while perched on a nearby branch. After he’d gone, Mr. Wren came by, getting right to the business of gobbling as many worms as he could as fast as possible. In the same way our pups devour their food. As Mr. “Worm-Pig” Wren was gorging himself, the Chickadee came back, swerving mid-flight as he realized that the feeder was occupied. I don’t often ob-serve territorial behavior in the birds at our feeders, except when it comes to the prize of fresh, wiggling mealworms.
And then, just when I thought that the worm stock would hold out until My Birds can once again find their own favorite delicacies in the wild woods, Abbie, our greedy and insatiable Golden Retriever, developed a taste for mealworms. We had gone away on a bitter, nasty day and left Abbie in the garage since she is not to be trusted unattended in the house. Earlier in the day I had fed My Birds, hand-picking the squirmy guys and putting them into an old empty and well-cleaned cat food can as transport to their outdoor demise. I always leave the can in-side the worm bucket but had inadvertently left the worm bucket on the floor, unfortunately at Golden Retriever nose height. There had been boatloads of worms in that bucket that morning, but when we got home it was as if every last worm had been sucked right out of the oatmeal, cat food can chewed and tossed aside on the floor and Abbie, our newest “Worm Pig,” standing there, happily wagging her tail as if to say, “What a tasty treat that was!”
Looks like it’s time to call Grubco, Inc.