See More RED! The 3 BEST Cardinal Bird Feeders (2018)
What are the BEST cardinal feeders to use in my backyard?
It’s a common question asked by both experienced and beginner bird watchers.
Well, in my opinion, it’s because the Northern Cardinal is one of the most beautiful and stunning birds you will find in your backyard and arguably the most famous bird that is native to North America.
For example, they are the official state bird of 7 states (including my home state of Ohio), the mascot of two professional sports teams (Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Cardinals) and countless college and high schools teams.
Speaking from experience, I love having a few bird feeders for cardinals around my house at all times. There’s nothing better than looking out my window and seeing a dozen of these birds scattered around my yard!
Table of Contents:
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And the cardinal has a new and VERY IMPORTANT role.
It’s my 3-year-old daughter’s favorite bird! (See video below)
The reason that many people start feeding and attracting birds to their backyards in the first place is to see more of the Northern Cardinal. Nothing says Spring like the distinctive “birdie birdie birdie” or “cheer cheer cheer” song of the cardinal.
Today, I am going to share with you the three cardinal bird feeders that work best in my yard and provide some tips to attract more of these beautiful birds.
But first we need to discuss the most important thing to consider when choosing cardinal bird feeders:
You must provide food that Northern Cardinals like eating!
The bird feeder is irrelevant if cardinals hate the food inside. Imagine that you are a vegetarian and the best steakhouse on the planet was next to your house, your still never going to go!
So what types of food should you put in your cardinal feeders?
Northern Cardinals are opportunistic feeders and eat all sorts of things in the wild, including many types of wild seeds, insects, invertebrates, and fruit. Luckily, you can purchase many foods that cardinals will love!
Here are three foods that cardinals can’t resist:
Cardinals LOVE sunflower seeds and will readily eat the three different varieties that you usually see in the store.
Black oil sunflower seed: These are smaller sunflower seeds with a black shell. It’s a favorite seed to use in your feeders for cardinals due to its inexpensive price and appeal to a wide variety of bird species.
Gray/Black striped sunflower seed: These are large sunflower seeds that humans also eat. Since the shells are larger than black oil sunflower, not as many birds can crack the seeds open. But cardinals have no problem! A good choice if you want to discriminate against other birds.
Sunflower kernels/chips: This sunflower seed has had the shell removed, and just the seed is left. Sunflower kernels attract the most extensive variety of birds to your cardinal feeder because many birds love sunflower seeds but can’t crack the shell. Kernels/chips are much more expensive than black oil sunflower and striped sunflower seed.
Grown from the annual safflower plant, safflower seed is a popular addition to many types of bird seed mixes. It’s a great food to use because cardinals like it and eat the stuff up!
But here’s the best part!
Many other birds don’t like safflower seeds and will leave them alone in your feeder. Specifically, blackbirds (European Starlings!) and squirrels usually don’t eat safflower, who are two of the most prominent bullies that show up at backyard feeders.
So if your goal is to attract as many cardinals as possible and limit the number of other bird species, then safflower is an excellent choice.
Cardinals are also attracted to peanuts, as long as they are already out of their shell.
Peanuts are an excellent source of protein and fat and can help cardinals get some extra nutrition during a hard winter.
But like sunflower, many other birds LOVE shelled peanuts too – Jays, crows, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blackbirds, titmice, chickadees, doves, juncos and more!
My favorite cardinal food?
If I am trying to get as many cardinals as possible to my feeders, then I usually do a mix of black oil sunflower and safflower seed. The price is economical, and it has two of the Northern Cardinal’s favorite foods.
This cardinal mix from Wagner’s works well in my yard. (60% sunflower / 40% safflower)
Essential features for cardinal bird feeders
As we just discussed above, the first ingredient to attract cardinals to your feeders is to use the food they like (sunflower, safflower, peanuts).
The second step is providing the food in a cardinal bird feeder that is easy for them to access. Not every feeder is designed or optimized for cardinals!
Let’s take a quick look at how a Northern Cardinal is built:
1. Size and Length of Body
Cardinals are a medium-sized bird. The average weight is about 1.8 oz, and their length can range from 7.5-9.25 inches. Compare that to a Black-capped Chickadee (.4 oz and 5.5 in) or American Goldfinch (.5 oz and 5 in), and you see that a Northern Cardinal weighs about 4x more and is about the 2x the length.
Many bird feeders are designed to attract popular and smaller birds like goldfinches and chickadees. These feeders have been engineered for these tiny birds and will just be too small for cardinals. A cardinal bird feeder needs to provide an appropriate amount of space for them to eat and be comfortable.
For example, most tube feeders are not cardinal favorites. The perches usually are too small, and they seem to have a hard time twisting their body around to the open ports. For example, I have NEVER seen a cardinal on my tube feeder, which I keep filled with delicious sunflower kernels!
2. Size and Shape of Bill
Northern Cardinals have a large beak that is strong and designed for crushing seeds open (like their favorite foods – sunflower and safflower!).
They won’t respond well to screen or mesh feeders that they can’t get their bill through. It would be impossible for them to get any of the food out! Once again, many of these feeders were designed for birds with smaller beaks.
The 3 BEST Cardinal Feeders In My Yard
My favorite feeders for cardinals are open and flat and have lots of room for these birds to sit, perch and hang out. This includes a domed tray feeder, platform feeder, and hopper feeder.
- This feeder is versatile and has many purposes in my backyard. For example, when I want to see more cardinals (generally in winter), I put a blend of sunflower and safflower in the tray. In the summer, I use this feeder a lot for mealworms to attract bluebirds.
- The dome over the feeding tray helps to keep snow off the seed but doesn’t work great when it rains. But the dish has small holes that provide excellent drainage that helps to dry the food out quickly.
- The dome can be adjusted lower to keep larger birds (such as pigeons) out.
- This cardinal feeder is constructed of sturdy and durable polycarbonate plastic. It is very tough, sturdy, and resistant to cracking or breaking. No worries if this accidentally falls to the ground.
- Take a look at the picture. It’s a very SIMPLE design. It’s effortless to take apart to clean and dirt easily washes off from the smooth plastic.
- The Dorothy’s Cardinal Feeder is made by Droll Yankees who have a fantastic reputation for quality bird products. Made in America (as are all their products!) and backed by their Lifetime Warranty, which covers any defective part or any damage caused by squirrels.
- Since it is made from clear plastic, this cardinal bird feeder is not the most decorative or aesthetically pleasing in my yard. This is not something that I care about because it works well and attracts cardinals.
- This is an excellent, multi-purpose platform and a favorite feeder for cardinals. Just spread their favorite foods on top! Along with sunflower and safflower, I usually put treats and food on the tray for other birds, such as whole peanuts, corn kernels, fruit, and mealworms.
- It’s solid and well constructed – made from cedar and screwed together well. You can buy much cheaper platform feeders, but remember you “ALWAYS get what you pay for!”
- The metal screen bottom provides excellent drainage. Your birdseed and food will never be sitting in standing water.
- The metal screen bottom is removable and slides right out. This makes it very easy to clean!
- It’s big and can hold lots of birds at one time. (16.4 x 13.2 x 2.4 inches)
- This large hopper bird feeder is the centerpiece of my backyard feeding area and where I put my general bird seed mix (sunflower, peanut pieces, safflower, and white millet) that is designed to attract as many species as possible.
- It holds a lot of seed; up to 12 pounds if filled to the top!
- Cardinals were feeding on it within the first HOUR of hanging it up, along with other birds.
- It is “squirrel resistant.” The feeder is designed to close if there is too much weight on the feeding perches (such as a squirrel). So far, it’s working, and the squirrels have not figured it out.
- Birds can feed on both sides, which is a significant improvement from the original Absolute.
- Very sturdy – the body is steel. This feeder should last a long time especially if it doesn’t rust over the years. There is also no chance that squirrels or raccoons will be able to chew through it.
- My Absolute II is hanging from a pole, but it can also be mounted. Make sure to use a heavy-duty pole. This feeder is heavy when it’s full of seed!
- It is easy to refill. The top lid unlatches easily to open.
- The seed is well protected from rain. I have had no problems with mold or seed clumping due to moisture or dampness.
6 Tips for Feeding Cardinals
1. Even though Northern Cardinals are common, they are relatively shy.
Try to keep your cardinal bird feeders away from windows with a lot of movement. I’ve noticed the farther my feeders get from my house; the more cardinals seem to arrive!
Find a quiet spot in your yard to place your feeders, preferably with trees and brush nearby for them to land and hide. Many times, cardinals will hang out near a feeder but stay hidden until they are ready to eat. This is especially apparent after a fresh snow. We have counted as many as 15 cardinals within close proximity to our feeders!
2. Tube bird feeders are not going to be popular for cardinals.
The perches usually are just too small. If you must use a tube feeder, make sure it has a bottom tray that offers a large surface area for them to land and feed.
3. Cardinals prefer feeding on the ground.
Isn’t this ironic? An article talking about different cardinal bird feeders but you will probably see the most Northern Cardinals feeding on the ground BENEATH the feeders. Even the best new feeders can’t compete against instinct and Mother Nature!
When I fill my feeders, I usually throw a handful of black oil sunflower seed on the ground too. I hope that spreading sunflower on the ground will attract even the shyest cardinals to my yard. Once the seed disappears from the ground, they will be forced to use my cardinal feeders!
5. The early cardinal gets the worm… I mean sunflower and safflower seed!
Make sure your feeders are full every morning before sunrise. Cardinals are early risers and will be among the first birds to visit every day (and some of the last to visit in the evening).
6. Don’t panic if cardinals don’t gobble up safflower seed right away.
If you try to fill a feeder with ONLY safflower seed, your cardinals may not touch it at first. It’s not that they don’t like it, but they probably have never had it before.
My recommendation is to mix safflower into sunflower seed. Cardinals will inevitably eat some safflower and realize that it’s tasty and edible and should soon visit a bird feeder just full of safflower.
Conclusion – The Best Bird Feeders for Cardinals
Having your backyard bird feeders full of beautiful red Northern Cardinals should not be too complicated. Just follow the three recommendations in this article:
1. Use food that cardinals can’t resist: Sunflower, safflower, and peanuts.
If this article was valuable, please consider doing one of the following three things:
1. If you decide to purchase one of the cardinal bird feeders listed above, please use one of the affiliate links provided. At no cost to you, I would receive a small percentage from that retailer. This lets me know that you found this article helpful and covers the costs to run Bird Watching HQ. I would also be forever grateful. 🙂
2. Share this article! I don’t care what social network you prefer, pass it around!
3. Use the comments below to keep the conversation going. I would love to hear your thoughts and responses:
- What bird feeders for cardinals have you had the most success using?
- Please share your best tips and tricks for feeding Northern Cardinals!