Attracting Cardinals to Your Back Yard

October 20, 2010

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.

–R. Brune

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia Pavich October 25, 2010 at 5:27 pm

For many years our large front tree and its many feeding stations has had many cardinals visit it. During breeding season, pairs would come with their young, and in the colder, midwestern winters flocks of them would come to this tree for its many options for feeding (sunflower seed, cracked corn, sunflower hearts,safflower seeds, and nutmeats. This summer, sadly our cardinals have been missing, and even the advent of cooler weather has failed to bring them back. Does anyone have any idea what is wrong? Nothing has changed around the house, neighborhood or tree.

Duncraft October 26, 2010 at 9:52 am

Marcia, no one can really tell for sure why birds may be in a certain area some years and not in other years. Birds only get about 25% of their food from bird feeders. It may have been a bad year in your area for the other foods cardinals seek out, such as insects and wild berries. Next year it may be another story and your cardinals may be back. Cardinals are not in decline in any way and their population is generally growing, so I wouldn’t say that anything is especially wrong… just different this year than in the past.

Elinor Gregory November 11, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I am an avid bird feeder. I live in Fl and have a lot of Ibis, maybe 20 or more at a time and was wondering what kind of food to buy for this kind of bird. They have that long hooked bill and I know they feed on insects in the ground but they also seem hungry and the only thing they will eat that I put out is fresh bread. They cannot swallow stale bread but they do not touch any seeds of any kind. I do purchase some pellets at our local feed store that is called foul food but they do not like that either. If you can suggest to me something to feed them it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. PS I love my bird bath I purchased from you. Elinor

Elinor Gregory November 12, 2010 at 12:07 am

I am sorry my comment did not get sent. I was mentioning that I have a lot of Ibis, maybe 20 or more that appear to be hungry. We live near the water. I know they love insects in the ground but what other food to they eat? They do like fresh soft bread broken in small pieces but I now that is not nourishing for them. Is there something I can purchase for them? Very unique little birds. We do have sand cranes also but they tell us not to feed them so I try not to. But they do love peanuts. They do not eat the foul pellets from the feed store near me. They have very strange bills. I would love to have your suggestion as how I can make these little guys happy. Thank you, Elinor

R. Brune November 12, 2010 at 11:32 am

Hi Elinor,
I’m not sure what you could or even should feed Ibis. They mostly eat insects and crustaceans. I think your best bet would be to call your local Audubon Society and get their opinion.

Debra Deshane November 17, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I have been trying to get cardinals for about 5 years now. I have feed everything I can think of , with water always available. I did notice when my other birds were acting funny or not showing up, we had a hawk lurking around and diving for our birds. Keep an eye out for this at bird feeders when your birds arent coming regular.

papasnow November 23, 2010 at 3:16 am

Dear Debra,
A simple solution to hawks feeding on our songbirds is to stake one or two blake plastic crow decoy/imitations near our feeders. They are very inexpensive (about $6.00 each) and the hawks will do everything to avoid them for fear of being attacked by the crows. Just remember to move the crows occasionally just to keep the hawks guessing if they are real.

Maria November 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I have had a problem with finding a bird feeder that the cardinals will like but doesn’t feed all the big birds (the grackles and blackbirds descend in droves) and is squirrel proof. Any ideas?

Alana November 25, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Maria,Get the accordian style feeder,that has the collapsible mesh with small round tray on the bottom? Fill with safflower seed. My cardinals are constantly on this feeder. I’ve seen them in red & yellow,the red is better with the single compartment as opposed to the double.

p November 26, 2010 at 1:05 am

Cardinals are wonderful family birds. I often see the whole family at the feeder long after the babies have fledged. The male seems to check out the feeder to see if it’s safe and then watches his family feed. He’s then the last to feed when it’s almost dark.

patricia krupica November 26, 2010 at 7:40 am

My Cardinal come at many times during the day now as they used to be here early am and dusk to visit. I love tho watch them. They don’t linger very long when they visit…they are not hogs..

Judy Huestis January 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm

We had a female cardinal just this afternoon feeding by herself but I am sure the male was not far away.Very nice to see them at the feeders!

ellen January 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Every spring, I enjoy watching the cardinal pairs introduce their young to the platform seed feeder.. then show them all the available water. It’s fun watching the young cardinals mature.

Nell January 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

This is a wonderful feeder, but it also looks like the blackbirds would love it also! We were attacked by thousands of blackbirds during the recent snow. The cardinals and finches, etc could not feed. None of my daily birds got any food and I really worried about them afraid they would starve. I did notice the cardinals did get something to eat early in the morning and late afternoon.
We live in a rural area and that happens.
Nell
North Carolina

Chelsea Northern Indiana January 6, 2011 at 11:45 am

I have been feeding the birds in my front and backyard for a few years now. I am so excited we now have at least, 7 male and female cardinals eating and even nesting around the area. They are so beautiful, and when they call early in the morning and evening I always know its them, so i go out to feed them, they fly up to the tree just untill I am out of site and begin landing again. I love them. I would also like to get them a nesting box, however I wonder if they would use it…

Gelsa North Jersey January 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I have had one Cardinal couple for the past 5 years…but this Summer I was surprised to see that I have 1 male and 3 females now. The best thing was when the “Mom” had one of the younger females at the feeder and was actually showing her how to feed…Mom would take a seed and “feed” it to the younger one. The younger one would actually shake all over until Mom offered her food. It was great to see!

Marcia Pavich January 19, 2011 at 2:26 pm

We are expecting very cold weather in the next few days and I have been adding extra treats to my usual seed blends in order to assist our regular winter feeder visitors manage better. I added chopped walnuts ,raisins and dried cranberries to black oil sunflower seeds, and was amazed at the number of cardinals (who had been absent for most of the summer and fall), who flocked to the ground feeder holding the mixture. I put some of the mix into a hanging feeder, and have seen several downy woodpeckers, as well as a number of black capped chickadees enjoying it as well. It’s a bit pricy, but is obviously filling a need on these cold days.

Julianne March 8, 2011 at 12:04 am

I live in Las Vegas, NV. I was wondering what type of birds I might hope to attract to a backyard feeder? What would be a good seed to offer them?

Linda April 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I also live in Las Vegas, NV. Was startled one day at the site of a beautiful male Cardinal perched in the backyard. Have not seen him since. Have just setup feeders/water that I had in the mid-west to attract him. Keeping fingers crossed. Anyone else have them around?

Dana Campbell May 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I live in weymouth, MA and i am absolutely blessed to have a large familly of northern cardinals living in my back yard. The grackles and squirrels are not too happy that i switched to safflower, but my cardinal friends love it. I don’t know what i’d do if they weren’t around, I have grown so attached to them.

Norm Reynolds May 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm

having a problem with pigeons I had a bird feeder for a year now I built a platform feed for my cardinals for some reason they will NOT go to a feeder also have two woodpeckers and two blue jays BUT the pigeons are driving me nuts to the point my neighbor is now complaining
tried a wire mass feeder but the cardinals only will come to the platform
iT at the point where ether i take the whole thing down to please my neighbor and me not to happy I love watching the cardinals and blue jays but the pigeons is not what I was hopping for HELP

Sheryl H. July 11, 2012 at 9:37 am

A couple of days ago I spotted a male cardinal in my garden apparently eating some green tomatoes from one of my cherry-tomato plants so I shoo-ed him away and then went to check the damage he’d done.

Instead of seeing 1/2 eaten tomatoes, I came face-to-face with a fat, green, tomato worm/caterpillar, yuck!!! The cardinal that I had shoo-ed away had been attacking the tomato destroyer! I felt terrible for scaring the bird away, I do love watching the beautiful cardinals, and he was helping my garden!

I was afraid that I’d seen the last of him, but yesterday evening he was back, hopping from 1 tomato cage to another, checking for tomato worms, I was thrilled! Hopefully my garden will be his new favorite place to hang out, even after he eats all my tomato pests.

Anything I can do to encourage him to return & keep patrolling my tomato plants?

paloma January 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I have a male cardinal that sings to get my attention off and on from morning till night. I then go and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of shelled sunflower seeds in his secret place, just outside my kitchen door on the rail under a big rhodie and he eats what he wants, then disappears. He will even come to find me if I am anywhere the large yard, singing his heart out within 10 feet of me until I stop, go inside, get his seed and put it in his secret place.

Cheryl January 7, 2013 at 12:29 am

I live in Vancouver, Canada. Does anyone know the the closest place that I could visit where I could reliably see a cardinal outdoors (not in a zoo)

Kathy April 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Cheryl from Canada you are welcome to come and look out of my kitchen window in Simpsonville, SC…I will brew a pot of coffee and we can watch them together. I have a whole flock of Cardinals that sit in my Holy Trees all the time. :)

Jeffrey Stein January 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm

I live in central Kansas and use a wild cardinal seed mix from the local hardware store. I get to see a variety of cardinals from young to older. I would like to try a suet feeder also. Can any one advise on what flavor they favor. The hardware store has 10-15 different kinds.

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