I have a running competition at my house, and it pertains to attracting Northern Cardinals.

 

The game is to see how many cardinals you can observe at one time in my backyard! Currently, our record is fifteen, which was set on a cold, snowy day last winter.

 

Check out this LIVE stream of my bird feeders! You may be able to see some cardinals right now.

 

Even though they are common across much of North America, it seems everyone wants to attract more cardinals to their backyard. Both males and females are beautiful, fun to watch, native, and they never overrun your feeders like House Sparrows or European Starlings!

 

Luckily, attracting cardinals is simple and straightforward.

 

In this post, I provide 4 different strategies to make your backyard more “cardinal friendly.” By implementing a few of the ideas below, you should be enjoying Northern Cardinals in your yard and on your feeders before you know it!

 


Strategy #1: Select Foods That Cardinals Prefer

 

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 cardinals beak below. Pay close attention to its design. What do you think their beaks are specialized to eat?

 

how to attract cardinals

 

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.

 

This fact is important to know because the two best foods that attract cardinals are sunflower and safflower seeds, both of which have hard shells!

 

1. Sunflower:

There are two different varieties of sunflower you can purchase to feed cardinals:

 

Black-oil sunflower: This food is extremely popular and will attract many species of birds, not just cardinals. It’s generally inexpensive and found in most general bird seed mixes.  View $ on Amazon

 

Striped sunflower: Bigger than Black-oil with a harder husk to crack open. Cardinals have no problem getting to the seed inside, but many other birds do. This seed is a great option to use if you want to attract cardinals but discriminate against other birds.  View $ on Amazon

 

*Cardinals also LOVE sunflower chips/kernels, which are sunflower seeds that have already been shelled. Unfortunately, almost every other bird species eat sunflowers chips too so cardinals will have more competition at the feeder.*

 

2. Safflower:

 

Cardinals enjoy safflower and eat it regularly. But an amazing benefit of safflower is that many other birds ignore it, which leaves more food for cardinals!  View $ on Amazon

 

For example, safflower is used a lot to prevent blackbirds (such as grackles and starlings) and squirrels, because they both don’t generally eat this white seed.

 

Try this blend of sunflower and safflower to attract cardinals.

 

When I want to see as many cardinals as possible at my feeders, then I typically use a mix of black oil sunflower and safflower seed. You can make your own or buy the mix below made by Wagner’s. It’s even called the “Cardinal Blend.” 🙂

best food to attract cardinals

Wagner’s Cardinal Blend (60% sunflower / 40% safflower)   View $ on Amazon 

 

*Even though sunflower and safflower seem to be what my cardinals like best, they are not the only two foods that they eat. A few other foods that attract cardinals to bird feeders are corn and shelled peanuts.*

 


Strategy #2: Use Cardinal Friendly Feeders

 

There are thousands of different bird feeders that you can choose from, but 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 the specific needs of Northern Cardinals.

 

First, cardinals like having a large perch, platform, or tray to land on and use.

 

Second, they prefer to feed facing forward. Cardinals don’t like to twist their bodies to eat, which means that they rarely use the perches of a traditional tube feeder because they would have to turn their body to reach the feeding ports. The perches on tube feeders also tend to be too small for cardinals.

 

(A simple hack to get cardinals to use a tube feeder is to attach a tray at the bottom. This gives them a place to land and eat from without having to use the feeding ports.)

 

The best feeders that attract cardinals tend to be hoppers or tray/platform feeders.

attracting cardinals to bird feeders

 

This is because they are big enough for cardinals to land on and eat while facing forward.

 

Here are three feeders that work well for me. Some are being used currently at my bird feeding station, which can be viewed RIGHT NOW in my LIVE stream! (Also find the video at the beginning of this post)

 

*Click each link below to check the current price on Amazon.*

 

Bonus Feeder Tips:

  • Make sure your bird feeders are full both late in the evening and early morning because cardinals tend to be the first and last to visit your feeding station each day.

 

  • Northern Cardinals enjoy feeding on the ground. So don’t be surprised if you see them frequently eating and looking for fallen seed underneath your bird feeders. I usually throw a handful of food on the ground for them.

Here is a LIVE view of my the ground beneath my bird feeders. During the day it’s common to see multiple cardinals at once.


Strategy #3: Give Cardinals Places to Hide

 

Even though they are common, Northern Cardinals are shy.

 

For example, before flying over to visit my bird feeders, my local cardinals love to hang out in nearby bushes and trees to make sure it’s safe.

 

To help make cardinals feel comfortable in your backyard and around your feeders, you should make sure there are plenty of places for them to hide and take cover. Birds don’t like feeling exposed to predators!

 

Cardinals prefer hiding and nesting in dense thickets that include vines, shrubs, or bushes. My recommendation is to place your bird feeding station near these areas and avoid the middle of your yard. Cardinals will appreciate the privacy and being near escape routes!

 


Strategy #4: Provide Water For Cardinals To Drink

attract cardinals with birdbath

Like most other mammals and birds, Northern Cardinals need to drink every day. 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 small stream running through your backyard, then you are going to need to buy a bird bath!

 

Bird baths that are heated and sit on the ground are best for attracting Northern Cardinals.

 

First, since it’s heated, the water is not going to 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 them properly! Bird baths typically get dirty fast, and if they are not cleaned and changed often, they become a perfect place for bacteria and algae to grow and mosquitoes to lay eggs.

 


Attracting cardinals is worth the effort!

 

One nice thing about cardinals is that they do not migrate. Once they visit your yard and like what they find, they should keep coming 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 up trying desperately to attract a mate.

 

Luckily this summer was the first time I was able to locate a nest in our backyard! It was very exciting. Because cardinals prefer nesting in extremely dense bushes and shrubs, their nests can be hard to find!

 

I did not take this below video, but it’s a great view of Northern Cardinal parents feeding and taking great care of their three babies! If you follow the simple steps outlined above, you may have cardinals nesting in your backyard before you know it!

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