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After many weeks trying to offer dried mealworms to Eastern Bluebirds and Carolina Wrens, I finally have a winner, Erva’s Starling Proof Mealworm Feeder! I went through several trials to get there. First I tossed some into platform feeders. European Starlings (and a few Northern Mockingbirds) ate them all. Then I switched to a small Squirrel Buster Standard feeder. Starlings kept getting in even as I tried to retrofit it in endless ways to keep them out.
I finally gave in and purchased Erva’s Mealworm Feeder from Amazon, part of Erva’s “Starling Proof Feeder” series. (I couldn’t find this feeder locally.) After watching starlings repeatedly try and fail to get into this feeder, I am declaring it a success. They only get scraps around the edges. And with an easy tweak to the feeder, I can deny them even that!
Caging Out Starlings
If you put food in a platform or hopper feeder, starlings can eat it easily. Because of the way their beaks work, they have more trouble with tube feeder ports. But they are tenacious. If they really want the food, they will hang on tube feeders and worry the food out anyway. After weeks battling starlings in various feeder types, I realized that the only way to keep them out is to put a cage around the feeder.
Erva’s mealworm feeder is a large cage feeder where the food is deep inside the cage. Unless food is spilled on the feeder floor, they can’t reach it.
Starlings are determined to get at the mealworms, which they obsess over, so they haven’t totally given up. But the reality is that the only mealworms they get now are those dropped by a smaller bird. (I’ve since tweaked the feeder to almost eliminate even this.)
Erva Mealworm Feeder
Erva makes the extra large hanging baffles and shepherd’s hook feeder poles that I love so much in my yard. This feeder’s top and bottom plates remind me of their baffles, only they are 14” instead of 21” in diameter. Sandwiched in between these two galvanized power coated steel plates is an 8” high cylinder of vinyl coated wire mesh. The mesh openings are just very slightly under 1 1/2” wide.
A cable attaches to the top of the wire mesh cylinder on opposite sides. To lock the roof in place, you move a slide all the way down. This cable adds about 12 ½” to the total height. Erva says, “This feeder features a hanging cable but it may also be mounted on a Tubular Pole or Deck Pole using our YSFF Mounting Plate.”
I found the little glass bowl and its holder well wrapped separately inside the feeder when I opened the box. The holder attaches easily with a wheel-like thumb nut screw. No tools required. There is about 4 ½” of space from the outside edge of the bowl to the wire mesh. This is a distance too far for even the long-beaked starlings to reach.
Smaller birds hop inside and usually sit on the side of the bowl to eat. I filled mine with dried mealworms. Adjusting the cable slide, I hung it from the hook of one of my Erva baffles. (You could alternatively offer other things in the bowl; maybe jelly for orioles? Or you could offer live mealworms of course.)
Will Bluebirds Use This Feeder?
I really hesitated to buy this feeder because some Amazon commenters said their Eastern Bluebirds couldn’t figure out how to get inside. Some said the birds were too big to fit through the mesh. I’d also never seen the bluebirds in my yard go inside any of my other cage feeders.
But the starlings were driving me and the bluebirds crazy, so I took a chance and I’m glad I did. It really was not a problem. It took the bluebirds a few days to get completely used to the feeder, but the first one puzzled it out in less than an hour.
One recommendation in the Amazon comments was to add temporary perches to the feeder. This gives bluebirds a comfortable place to sit while they think through how to get inside the feeder. So I used super strong Scotch Super 88 vinyl electrical tape to temporarily attach two twigs to the bottom panel.
I actually made the twigs a bit too long at first. If they are too long, a bird landing hard on the end of the “perch” can move the feeder up like a seesaw. (Disconcerting for a bird inside!) Once I realized that, I got my pruners and trimmed the “perches” to a shorter 1 1/2” length.
After birds got used to going in and out for a couple weeks, I got rid of the perches entirely. If you want permanent perches, Erva sells a separate starburst-like wheel of metal perches that can be attached to the bottom.
Birds Figuring Out the Feeder
Starlings Try the Feeder
The day this arrived, I put it up in the same spot as the previous feeder I had been using for mealworms. The birds immediately saw the change and immediately started trying to figure it out. Starlings landed on the outside and peered in. Climbing on the mesh, they circled it again and again and again but were unable to get in.
I must admit to a very uncharitable feeling of glee as I watched them fail to get into the feeder. (After watching them repeatedly bully all kinds of birds out of various feeders, I am not feeling very fond of starlings right now.)
Carolina Wrens Quickly Get In
The very first bird to get inside was, not surprisingly, a Carolina Wren. She flew right over and popped right through the bars to grab some mealworms. A pair of them are now regulars on this feeder (and had no need for the temporary perches.) They seem quite pleased with it.
Bluebirds Watch & Figure it Out
The bluebirds took just a little longer. They first landed on the temporary perches and then circled it like the starlings were doing. Then they would come sit on one of the shepherd’s hook poles near where I was watching to look at me, as if to say, “Why not just toss some mealworms on the ground right here for me so we don’t have to figure this out?”
But I think bluebirds are smart. The four visiting my yard each day have seen other birds hopping in and out of the three other cage feeders filled with sunflower for weeks. So I think they probably realized that I wasn’t trying to trap them. Once they saw wrens going in and out of this feeder so easily, they decided to give it a try.
The first bluebird in the feeder popped in, went through, and immediately popped back out. It was so fast that I wasn’t completely sure I had seen what I had seen. But he soon repeated the trick, this time stopping to sit on the edge of the bowl and eat mealworms. Once one bird in a group figures something out, others follow their lead. Some were a bit skittish at first, but within about a day, they seemed cool with the feeder.
I had previously gone through almost all of the five pound bag of mealworms from Amazon in a little less than a month. Now that small birds can eat more of them and the starlings only eat scraps, I am going through MUCH less.
The little glass bowl’s interior dimensions are 3 1/4” wide by 1” deep. It holds about 3/4 cup of mealworms. The four bluebirds and two wrens currently eating them go through about half of that in a day. So the new bag I just bought is should last a lot longer!
There are other small birds in my yard that eat mealworms too that I haven’t seen in the feeder yet, so that may change over time. So far the only other bird I’ve seen in it was a Pine Warbler.
Other Starling Proof Feeders
The Starling Proof Feeder line that Erva sells is pretty interesting. The basic feeder design of two metal plates and wire mesh is standard for all six feeders in this line. The differences are the feeder color and the inner food dispenser. Erva offers two mealworm feeders with a glass bowl in the middle, one copper color and the other blue. They have other copper color versions with either a spike for a seed cylinder or a mesh tube for peanuts or sunflower seed or a double suet cake basket. The final feeder is a green version of the suet feeder. On Erva’s website, you can alternatively purchase these interior pieces separately. It looks like you could change the purpose of the feeder this way. Pretty cool.
Tweaking the Feeder To Work Better
This feeder does work well. The bluebirds and wrens seem very happy with it and it is easy to use. I think Erva designed it for dried mealworms rather than live mealworms though. Because of this, without an adjustment (which I figured out), starlings are only about 90% locked out.
Starlings can’t reach into the bowl itself. But bluebirds and wrens can be messy, sometimes flinging dried mealworms around, leaving them closer to the metal mesh. Starlings would come by a few times a day. One would hang on the side of the feeder and reach in to grab whatever spilled mealworms it could reach. They didn’t stay long and groups of them bickering over mealworms for long periods stopped. So even this was much better.
But I did some experimenting, trying different things to keep the starlings completely blocked out. It took a few tries, but the solution turned out to be easy, didn’t cost me anything and took about ten minutes. Now the starlings have moved on and the bluebirds and wrens can eat in peace. You can read about my solution in my “Dried Mealworms, Starlings & Erva’s Mealworm Feeder” post.
This was not an inexpensive feeder, but it is well made and should last a long time. I suspect that I’ll easily make back the feeder cost in savings on dried mealworms that aren’t going into starling bellies.
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