We have a running competition at our house, and it pertains to attracting Northern Cardinals.
The game is to see how many cardinals you can observe at one time in the backyard! Currently, the record is seventeen, which was set on a cold, snowy day last winter.
And I know that we are not alone. It seems everyone wants to attract more cardinals. Both males and females are beautiful, fun to watch, and they never overrun your feeders like House Sparrows or European Starlings!
Check out this LIVE stream of my bird feeders! You may be able to see a Northern Cardinal right now.
Luckily, attracting cardinals is simple.
Today, you will learn SIX strategies proven to attract cardinals.
By implementing a few of the ideas below, you should be enjoying more of these beautiful red birds in your yard before you know it!
#1: Select THESE foods that cardinals LOVE!
In my opinion, the BEST thing you can do to attract cardinals is to feed them their favorite foods! If you can provide a reliable and endless supply of delicious food, why wouldn’t they keep coming back again and again?
So what do cardinals like to eat?
Look at the picture of a cardinal’s beak below. Pay close attention to its design. What do you think their beaks are specialized to eat?
If you said cracking open shells to eat the seed inside, then you are correct! Their beaks provide the necessary power and leverage to open up a wide variety of thick and hard seed husks.
So it should come as no surprise that the best foods you can use to attract cardinals are seeds and nuts. Here are the BEST options:
There are three different varieties of sunflower you can purchase to feed cardinals:
A. 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 low price and appeal to a wide variety of bird species. Not edible for humans!
B. 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 the cardinals have no problem! A good choice if you want to discriminate against other birds.
C. Sunflower kernels/chips: This sunflower seed has had the shell removed, and just the kernel is left. Sunflower kernels attract the widest variety of birds to your cardinal feeder because no one has to crack the shell. However, kernels and chips are much more expensive than black oil sunflower and striped sunflower seeds.
Cardinals enjoy safflower seeds and eat them regularly. But a fantastic benefit of this food is that many other birds ignore it, which leaves more for cardinals!
For example, safflower is also used to prevent blackbirds and squirrels because they both don’t generally eat this white seed.
Don’t panic if the cardinals don’t eat safflower seed right away.
Your cardinals may not touch this new food 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 and sunflower seeds. Cardinals will inevitably eat some safflower and realize that it’s tasty and edible.
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 provide cardinals with some extra nutrition during a hard winter.
But like sunflower seeds, many other birds LOVE shelled peanuts too – Jays, crows, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blackbirds, titmice, chickadees, doves, juncos, and more!
#2: Use Cardinal Friendly Feeders!
There are thousands of different bird feeders that you can choose from. Unfortunately, Northern Cardinals will not use many of them, even if they contain their favorite foods.
This is because not all bird feeders are designed to meet their specific needs.
First, cardinals like having a large perch, platform, or tray to land on. They need a slightly open area to make them feel comfortable while eating.
Second, Northern Cardinals prefer to feed facing forward. These birds don’t like to twist their bodies to eat, which means that they seldom use the perches of a traditional tube feeder because they have to turn their body to reach the feeding ports.
The best feeders for attracting cardinals are hoppers, trays, or platforms.
This is because they are big enough for cardinals to land on and eat while facing forward. 🙂
Here are three feeders that work great for attracting cardinals!
*Click each link below to check the current price.*
For more detailed information about these options and honest reviews, check out this post –> The 5 Best Feeder For Cardinals (That Actually Work!)
In this short video, you can see some of the bird feeders that attract my cardinals!
#3: Place your bird feeders wisely!
Even though they are common, Northern Cardinals are shy. Before flying over to visit a feeder, these birds typically hang out in nearby bushes and trees to make sure it’s safe.
With that in mind, it’s important to place your bird feeders in a quiet spot in your yard near some shelter, such as shrubs, bushes, or trees. On the edge of the woods or a brushy area is an excellent location. Cardinals will appreciate the privacy and being near escape routes from predators!
If possible, you need to avoid putting your feeding station in the middle of a barren yard. Cardinals are not going to feel safe coming out to eat.
As you can see above, my feeding station is located on the edge of the woods.
I’ve noticed the farther my feeders get from my house, the more cardinals seem to arrive! If you do have your feeding station close to your house, try to keep it away from any windows with a lot of movement inside.
What if your yard doesn’t have any hiding places or shelter?
If you only have perfectly manicured grass with no trees or bushes, then you are going to have a hard time making cardinals feel safe.
My recommendation is to head to your local garden center and start planting lots of native plants! It’s entirely possible (and fun) to “birdscape” your backyard. Not only do native plants give hiding places, shelter, and nesting locations, but they also provide berries, nuts, and insects for food.
#4: Provide water to attract cardinals.
Like all animals, Northern Cardinals need to drink to survive. My advice is to take advantage of this fact and provide fresh, clean water in addition to a consistent food source.
If you are not lucky enough to have a lake or small stream in your backyard, then you are going to need to buy a bird bath!
Here is the bird bath that I am currently using at my feeding station:
Birdbaths that are heated and sit on the ground are best for attracting cardinals.
First, since it’s heated, the water will not freeze when the weather gets cold, which means it will be available when birds need it most! Second, cardinals prefer being on the ground to drink and will be most comfortable using a ground bath.
Before buying a new bird bath, please learn how to maintain it properly! Bird baths can get dirty fast! If they are not cleaned often, they become a perfect place for bacteria and algae to grow and mosquitoes to lay eggs.
#5: Northern Cardinals LOVE being on the ground.
Northern Cardinals enjoy feeding on the ground. So don’t be surprised if you see them frequently eating and looking for fallen seeds.
To take advantage of their fondness for being on the ground, I have a tray feeder FULL of their favorite foods placed underneath my feeding station.
In fact, you can see exactly how I’m feeding cardinals on the ground in my yard. Press PLAY below for a LIVE view of the ground beneath my bird feeders. During the day, it’s common to see multiple cardinals feeding together.
#6: The early (and late) cardinal gets the seeds!
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.
In addition, these birds are also some of the last to leave in the evening. There have been many times when I could barely see a cardinal on my feeders because it has been so dark!
Never let your feeders never run empty during the day. And make sure that they are full of fresh food every single morning. You don’t want the Northern Cardinals that live near you to find someone else’s feeder who ALWAYS has bird seed. 🙂
Attracting cardinals is worth the effort!
One nice thing about Northern Cardinals is that they don’t migrate. So once they visit your yard and like what they find, they should come back every single day!
I love being able to walk out in my backyard and observe cardinals. Whenever I hear the distinctive “birdie birdie birdie” call of males singing in March, it’s a sure sign that spring is almost here. It’s also fun to try and find the displaying bird perched high, trying desperately to attract a mate.
How do you attract cardinals to your yard?