Understanding a few facts about cardinals can make the difference between whether you’re able to attract these birds–or not! Cardinals usually are the first birds to feed in the morning and the last to feed at night. Be sure to have your feeders filled during these times of day. And the type of feeder is important too. Cardinals like feeders with a roomy trays or open platform feeders. They like to be able to perch comfortably and won’t tolerate feeders that sway in the wind or are otherwise unstable, such as feeders with perches that are too small for them. Cardinals often feed from the ground, so if cats or other predators aren’t present, you may consider a ground feeder for these birds.
Cardinals eat a variety of foods: sunflower seed, safflower seed, cracked corn, suet, suet mixtures, peanut hearts, peanuts and nutmeats of all kinds. Try Cardinal Delight, a seed Duncraft formulated especially for these birds. They also like melon seeds, pieces of raisins and banana and even cornbread.
If you want to set up a feeder for just cardinals and maybe some small birds such as chickadees, try setting your feeder in the midst of a bush or shrub. Cardinals nest in bushes and they love to eat in a secluded place. Replicating a cardinals’ preferred habitat by your feeding set-up is one way to keep them coming back and also discourages other large birds, such as doves and pigeons. These birds are too large to use a feeder that’s located in the middle of a lot of branches!
Water also plays a very important part in attracting cardinals and other birds, both in summer and winter. So be sure to have a bird bath filled with fresh water if there isn’t a natural water source nearby.
If you are lucky enough to have more than one pair of cardinals at your feeding station, you may see one or two males trying to keep all the others from the feeding tray. This is very common among finches – the family of birds to which the cardinal belongs. However, sooner or later every one gets its turn. Even the male cardinal who won’t let his mate eat with him all winter eventually relents. When spring comes he begins to regard his mate in a new light. Instead of chasing her from the feeding tray, he now begins to offer her shucked sunflower seeds and other choice tidbits. When the cardinals have their young they will bring them to the feeder and teach them how to feed themselves.
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