How to Attract Cardinals to Your Yard (Key Tips for Feeding, Nesting & More)

Want to attract cardinals to your yard?

We’re diving into how to create an environment that is favorable for cardinals with the proper food, water, shelter, and nesting sites.

So keep reading!

Key Takeaways

  • Provide proper food, water, shelter, and nesting sites to attract cardinals to your yard
  • Offer cardinals preferred food sources like black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds
  • Use larger, solid feeders suitable for medium-sized birds like cardinals to ensure their comfort while feeding

How to Attract Cardinals to Your Yard

male northern red cardinal feeding a female cardinal bird on a fence

If you want cardinals in your yard, you’ll need to provide them with the right types of food to meet their dietary needs and preferences.

Offer them a steady supply of their favorite snacks, and they’ll visit your yard often—and even call it home.

First off, it’s important to understand that cardinals’ diet primarily consists of seeds, fruits, insects, and plant buds

Below, we’ll list the specific foods to feed cardinals to attract them.

Read Next: What Colors Attract Cardinals?

Seeds and Nuts

Seeds make up a significant portion of the cardinal’s diet, so keeping a well-stocked bird feeder is key.

Cardinals have a strong preference for certain seeds and nuts, with favorites being black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.

Here’s what to include in your bird feeder offerings for cardinals:

  • Black oil sunflower seeds: These are a top choice among cardinals, due to their high fat content and easy-to-crack shells. Offer them in a feeder designed for cardinals to ensure easy access.
  • Safflower seeds: Slightly smaller than sunflower seeds, safflower seeds are another cardinal favorite. They have a bitter taste that many other birds do not like, so they’ll primarily attract cardinals to your feeders.
  • Peanuts: Shelled, unsalted peanuts provide cardinals with a protein-rich snack. Offer them whole or crushed to suit the cardinals’ preference.
  • Cracked corn: This is a budget-friendly option that many birds, including cardinals, enjoy. Mix cracked corn with other seeds or offer it separately to attract a variety of bird species.

Fruits and Berries

Cardinals also love to eat many different types of fruits and berries, and they’re great for them because they provide natural sugars and essential nutrients.

Consider adding these options to your bird-feeding menu:

  • Apples: Cut an apple into small pieces or slices and place it on a platform feeder or in a fruit-specific design with ample perching space.
  • Grapes: Both seedless and seeded grapes can be placed in a shallow dish or fruit-specific feeder to attract cardinals.
  • Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries: These small fruits can be served fresh or frozen to provide cardinals with a tasty treat.
  • Raisins and currants: Soak raisins or currants in water to soften them before offering them to cardinals on a platform feeder.

Insects and Caterpillars

In addition to seeds, nuts, and fruit, cardinals also consume insects and caterpillars to meet their protein needs.

Some suggestions for attracting cardinals with these food sources include:

  • Mealworms (live or dried mealworms): Place them in a dish or specially designed mealworm feeder for cardinals to enjoy.
  • Suet: While not exclusively an insect source, suet mixes can include mealworms and other protein-rich ingredients that cardinals will appreciate. Offer suet cakes in a suitable feeder during cooler months to avoid melting.
  • Support natural insect populations: Plant native shrubs and flowers that attract insects to provide cardinals with a natural food source. This will draw cardinals to your backyard and support a healthy ecosystem.

Types of Cardinal Bird Feeders

When it comes to attracting cardinals, choosing the right type of bird feeder is crucial.

Using a cardinal-specific feeder ensures that these medium-sized birds have a comfortable and secure place to perch and eat.

There are several bird feeder options available, each with its own unique features. Moving onto the following sections, we’ll talk about the merits of the best cardinal bird feeders:

  • Platform Feeders
  • Hopper Feeders
  • Suet Feeders
  • Tube Feeders

Platform Wild Bird Feeders

red cardinal bird sitting at a platform bird feeder

If you’re not sure which type of bird feeder attracts cardinals, you can’t go wrong with a platform feeder. These bird feeders are a popular choice for cardinals, and for good reason.

They have a flat, open platform that allows birds to easily access seeds and other foods they enjoy. And since cardinals enjoy feeding in open, spacious areas, platform feeders make an excellent option.

Additionally, these feeders can accommodate a variety of seeds, offering cardinals a diverse menu.

When you’re choosing a platform bird feeder, check that it has proper drainage to prevent seed spoilage. Also, make sure it can provide a comfortable feeding space for your feathered friends.

Hopper Bird Feeders

red northern cardinal eating bird seed from a hopper feeder

Large hopper feeders are another great option for cardinals. That’s because they provide an ample feeding area with a roof to protect seeds from the elements, which is important.

Hopper feeders release food gradually as the birds consume, ensuring a constant supply of fresh seeds for your backyard visitors.

This automatic dispensing feature makes them a convenient choice for birdwatching enthusiasts, and it’s also good for the hungry birds.

Choose a hopper feeder with sturdy construction and a spacious feeding area to attract cardinals.

Suet Feeders

female cardinal looking at a suet feeder hanging from a tree

Suet feeders are designed to hold blocks of suet, a high-energy food source often consisting of fat, seeds, and nuts.

Although cardinals may not eat suet regularly like other birds such as woodpeckers, a suet feeder can still complement the other feeders in your yard.

It allows you to attract a broader range of bird species (including cardinals) while providing an alternative food source during the colder months, when natural food is scarce.

Make sure to select a suet feeder that is easy to clean and refill to ensure a healthy and convenient feeding experience for the birds in your yard.

Tube Bird Feeders

male northern red cardinal eating black seeds from a tube bird feeder

Tube feeders are another popular option for attracting a wide range of birds, including cardinals. However, due to their narrow perches, they’re not the top choice for cardinals.

Better options for seed tube bird feeders come with a large tray at the bottom designed to catch falling bird seed and give cardinals a place to perch.

Tube feeders are cylindrical in design and have feeding ports spaced evenly along the length of the tube.

If you want to attract a variety of birds, including cardinals, consider using a combination of different feeders. You can include a tube feeder along with a platform or hopper feeder to cater to the preferences of various bird species.

Creating an Attractive Environment for Cardinals

sumac plants growing outdoors

Trees and Shrubs Cardinals Like

Among other strategies, attracting cardinals involves providing them with suitable trees and shrubs.

Planting a variety of native trees, such as mulberry, sumac, and blueberry will provide food sources for the cardinals.

As for shelter, cardinals are attracted to areas with lots of plants and evergreen trees, where they can find refuge from predators and harsh weather. Trees like pines and cedars offer shelter during the winter months.

Include some focal length, which allows for visual acuity, as cardinals like to have a clear view of their surroundings.

Water Sources for Cardinals

Cardinals need fresh water to drink and bathe. They prefer shallow water sources like birdbaths and small ponds for drinking and bathing.

Including a bird bath or several bird baths in your landscaping plan will entice these beautiful birds to your yard. To add some excitement and make your water source more inviting, install a dripper or a small waterfall in the bird bath.

This will attract cardinals by offering them a moving water source, which they find more appealing.

Protection and Nesting Sites

For cardinals to choose your yard as a nesting place, they need thickets and areas with ample shelter.

Plant dense shrubs to provide hiding spots and nesting sites for these birds. Adding native plants like dogwood can also act as protection from predators.

Don’t forget to include some birdhouses with proper entry hole sizes to further encourage nesting.

By adding vegetation in your yard, you can offer cardinals a secure and protected nesting site. Being mindful of their natural habitats and making your yard attractive to them can significantly increase your chances of hosting breeding pairs of cardinals.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to think out of the box when creating nesting sites! For instance, you can also use dog fur and other soft materials in your landscaping to provide cushioning for their nests.

Preventing Diseases and Hazards

If you want to bring cardinals to your yard, help prevent diseases and hazards that can harm these beautiful birds.

This section focuses on two critical aspects to consider: Cleanliness and Maintenance, and Avoiding Harmful Chemicals.

Cleanliness and Maintenance

Keeping bird feeders and birdbaths clean is crucial for the health of northern cardinals, as well as other wild birds.

Bacteria, mold, and other harmful pathogens can develop on unsanitary surfaces, causing diseases to spread.

Follow these tips to maintain cleanliness:

  • Regularly clean feeders with soap and water, ensuring all residue is removed before refilling.
  • Change the water in birdbaths daily to reduce the risk of bacteria and algae growth.
  • Remove and dispose of any spoiled or moldy food from feeders.
  • Provide protective cover, such as bushes or shrubs, to help cardinals avoid predators.

Avoiding Harmful Chemicals

Cardinals, like many other birds, can be affected by harmful chemicals present in their environment.

Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers can pose risks to these delicate creatures.

To shield cardinals and other wild birds from these hazards, adhere to these guidelines:

  • Opt for organic or natural pest control methods, such as introducing beneficial insects or using non-toxic solutions.
  • Refrain from using chemical herbicides near feeding or nesting areas. Choose alternative weed control techniques, like hand pulling or mulching.
  • Apply fertilizers sparingly and in accordance with manufacturer guidelines to minimize exposure.
  • Keep a safe distance between feeders and areas where chemicals may be stored or used.

Additional Tips and Tricks

cardinal sitting in a bare tree in winter

Timing and Seasonal Considerations

When trying to attract cardinals to your backyard, it’s important to be aware of timing and seasonal factors.

These birds can be found in the United States and Canada throughout the year, so it’s possible to tempt them during any season.

However, they are most active in the morning and evening, so those are the best times to put out food and ensure that your bird feeders are well-stocked.

Bird-friendly Landscaping

Creating a bird-friendly environment is crucial when trying to attract cardinals.

One approach is to include thick shrubs and perennial plants, providing protective shelter and natural food sources for the birds.

Additionally, consider installing sturdy platform feeders and trays, giving the birds easy access to food as they prefer to feed facing forward.

Be sure to place feeders in locations with nearby perches, allowing cardinals to feel secure while enjoying their meal.

Dealing with Squirrels and Other Competition

Attracting cardinals also means dealing with competitors like squirrels, who often try to steal bird food.

To prevent this, consider using squirrel-proof feeders or baffles, as well as placing feeders away from tree branches and tall perennials.

Additionally, the strategic use of perches can keep squirrels at bay without hindering the cardinals’ access to food.

If you’re proactive, you can create a tempting and peaceful backyard oasis for cardinals to enjoy.

If you want to know more about deterring squirrels and keeping squirrels from climbing the bird feeder pole, read this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of feeders are best for cardinals?

Cardinals prefer cardinal-specific feeders that are easy for them to access.

Aim for feeders with flat surfaces or larger perches that accommodate their size. Platform, tray, or hopper style feeders work well for cardinals as they allow them to comfortably feed.

What food sources do cardinals prefer?

Cardinals are omnivores with a diet consisting of seeds, fruit, insects, and plant buds.

The best way to attract them is by providing a variety of their favorite foods. Cardinals enjoy sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, cracked corn, and peanuts.

Which plants are most attractive to cardinals?

Plants that produce seeds, berries, or fruits are attractive to cardinals. Some examples include dogwood, hawthorn, viburnum, and sumac.

Adding these to your garden or yard can make it more appealing for cardinals seeking food sources.

What nesting habitats do cardinals look for?

Cardinals look for dense, leafy trees, shrubs, and bushes to nest in.

Provide them with good nesting spots by having a well-maintained garden with trees and bushes that allow for shelter, nesting, and roosting opportunities.

Are there any specific colors that cardinals are attracted to?

Although cardinals may not be specifically drawn to certain colors, using red shades in your feeders or landscaping can make it easier for them to spot the food sources and areas you’ve set up for them.

How can I make my yard more bird-friendly for cardinals?

To make your yard more bird-friendly for cardinals, consider the following:

  • Provide them with a variety of food sources, such as seeds, fruits, and insects.
  • Install cardinal-friendly feeders that accommodate their size and feeding preferences.
  • Position feeders strategically with easy access and a clear line of sight.
  • Offer fresh water sources, like a birdbath, for drinking and bathing purposes.
  • Ensure that trees and bushes are dense and well-maintained, providing plenty of shelter and nesting opportunities.
  • Protect cardinals from common hazards, such as window collisions and squirrel interference.

Helpful Video on Attracting Cardinals

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