7 PROVEN Ways To Attract Cardinals To Feeders! (2024)

It seems everyone wants to attract more cardinals!

how to attract northern cardinals to bird feeders

And I think it’s easy to see why. Both males and females are beautiful and fun to watch, and they never overrun your feeders like House Sparrows or European Starlings!

Luckily, attracting cardinals is simple. 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!

Today, you will learn SEVEN strategies proven to attract cardinals.

  • Check out this LIVE stream of my bird feeders! You may be able to see a Northern Cardinal right now.
YouTube video

#1: Use THESE 4 foods that cardinals resist!

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?

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. So it should come as no surprise that the best foods you can use to attract cardinals are seeds and nuts.

Here are the 4 BEST foods to feed Northern Cardinals:

Food #1: Sunflower seeds

There is NO DOUBT that sunflower seeds are the BEST food you can use to attract cardinals. Interestingly, there are three different varieties of sunflower you can purchase to feed cardinals, and they all work well.

sunflower seeds for attracting cardinals

A. Black-oil sunflower seed: These are smaller sunflower seeds than the ones that people eat. 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 Northern Cardinals have no problem! A good choice if you want to discriminate against smaller birds, like House Sparrows.

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 feeders because no one has to crack the shell. However, kernels and chips are much more expensive than black oil sunflower and striped sunflower seeds.

Food #2: Safflower seeds

safflower seed - best bird food

Amazon | Chewy

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 don’t generally eat this white seed.

Don’t panic if your cardinals don’t eat safflower seed right away.

The birds in your yard 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.

Food #3: Shelled Peanuts

peanut food for birds

Amazon | Chewy

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.

Food #4: Cracked Corn

cracked corn - types of birdseed

Cracked corn is whole kernel corn that has been chopped up. Many birds cannot eat whole kernel corn because it’s too big, but many birds, such as Northern Cardinals, like eating cracked corn.

The best part about cracked corn is its INEXPENSIVE price! This grain is commonly used in birdseed mixes to help get the bag’s price lower.


#2: Use Cardinal-Friendly Bird 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.

The best feeders for attracting cardinals are hoppers, trays, or platform feeders.

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 traditional tube feeders because they have to turn their body to reach the feeding ports.

Here are THREE feeders that work great for attracting cardinals!

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

Feeder #1: Absolute II

best feeders for cardinals

Feeder #2: Woodlink 3 in 1 Tray Feeder

best tray feeder

Feeder #3: Droll Yankees Dorothy’s Cardinal Feeder

Best Cardinal Feeders

For more detailed information about these options and honest reviews, check out this post –> The 8 Best Feeders For Cardinals (That Actually Work!)

In this short video, you can see some of the bird feeders that attract my cardinals!

YouTube video

#3: Place your bird feeders where cardinals feel safe!

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.

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.

attract cardinals with birdbath

Like all animals, Northern Cardinals need water 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:

JCS Wildlife Ground Bird Bath

best ground bird baths

Compare the prices of this birdbath!

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: Make sure you put food 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 this fact, 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.

YouTube video

#6: Keep your feeders FULL all the time!

Make sure your feeders are full of food 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. 🙂 


#7. Don’t let squirrels take over your feeding station!

Almost everyone who decides to feed birds inevitably has to deal with squirrels. These acrobatic mammals will stop at almost nothing to get to the tasty food at your bird feeders.

The main problem with squirrels is they have a LARGE appetite. If you don’t take precautions, you will end up with numerous squirrels taking turns feasting at your feeders. Your bird feeders can easily turn into “squirrel feeders.”

And when a squirrel is on a bird feeder, they typically don’t allow any birds, including Northern Cardinals, to get near them.

As you can imagine, if the cardinals in your yard can’t get to the feeders to eat, they will soon leave to find food elsewhere.

There are many ways to prevent squirrels from getting onto your bird feeders, but here are my three favorite strategies.


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?

Please leave a comment below 🙂

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19 Comments

  1. Yes I do love ❤️ watching 👀 them. What kind of fruit do they like love to see the females and males together ❤️ 🤔

  2. First and foremost, you need to have Cardinals in your area, because if you don’t, you can try every trick on the book and then some, but you will never attract them. I seriously doubt they will fly 1,500 miles, just to visit my feeders in the Seattle metro area. Sad, but true!

  3. I don’t have a problem with squirrels but a problem with doves. They come in en masse and push away all the other birds! I call them the dove mafia the way they take over. There are sometimes twenty of them and they eat all the food that’s easy to get to, eliminating the ability to feed my cardinals the way they like!

  4. Hi, Scott– Love your site and tips — Thanks! Our issue is a a flock of house sparrows. When we first hung our Absolute 3 birdfeeder near our front window, we had chickadees, cardinals, juncos, and interesting cameo appearances during migration. Then came the bully sparrows. I followed your advice and switched the seed to safflower and black niger. The sparrows dug it all out quickly until the ground was covered. I later added a blend of sunflower, cracked corn and white proso, thinking there was something for the sparrows, but most for cardinals. The sparrows have taken over. You’d think the cardinals would find plenty that the sparrows knocked on the ground, but the sparrows are so aggressive, the cardinals and all other birds have fled. Is there a way to get RID of sparrows (without hurting them, of course)?
    Thanks. — Cheryl

    1. I had a whole family of beautiful cardinals at my feeder this spring. But they haven’t been around since summer. I had a feed with lots of black sunflower at first but changed to one with less sf seeds. Thoughts?2

    2. 1- I grease the post of the feeders with Vaseline once a week. It is fun watching the squirrels jump up on the feeder posts, only to slide down.
      2- Buy ‘Squirrel Proof’ feeders. They aren’t alway100% effective, some are better than others, but will help with the problem.
      3- Keep the feeders at least 5 feet up off the ground.
      4- Keep the feeders 15 feet away from shrubs, bushes or trees.
      5- Put out critter feeders, that will help reduced the number of squirrels visiting your bird feeders. Some things they like are, peanuts in the shell, hole or broken peanuts and sunflower seeds (in the shells or not), corn, either whole or cracked, any nuts, really. I will also hang whole ears of dried corn out for them. (Warning, if they bury some of these things, they may sprout)
      There are other methods, but these five work very well for me.

  5. I have a problem with grackles. And I have been banging a empty 2 liter bottle against the house. But my cardinals and some of the chickadees and titmouse have all learned that I am trying to clear them out for them. So they dont fly far and come right back. Maybe it’s because they are desperate trying to feed their babies. My problem now is that the males dont want to share with each other and keep chasing off other cardinals. I just wish they would be as aggressive towards the grackles. But that might be what is happening with you. Its been going on most of the last part of April and may so far. Before when the males were sharing I had a tree full. So I have taken to putting some seed in feeder and window sills and putting some in little empty suet trays stashed under corner of the hedge bushes where one of my boys tends to hide. The cardinals have also been coming up to me to get me to put out seed too. As close as a couple of feet away. And the one who is most dominate will land practically on top of my head waiting while I put seed in feeder. They also dont fly off when I walk over to chase away grackles. I just walk toward them and grackles fly when they see me but cardinal stays. I can get within a few inches of him. But he even chases away females and babies that arent his. His mate when she shows up which isnt often since shes been busy lately isnt as trusting. She will look from him to me and back to him. But she doesnt get near as close to me as he does. His first batch of babies he brought around spooked easily but are starting to learn. But theres a real possibility a cardinal pair has staked their claim around your place and feeder and not letting other cardinals around. Their only chance is to sneak in when he flys off to the nest and his mate.

  6. I have an open tray on the deck rail outside my kltchen window. The female cardinal stands on the feeder and looks in the window at me if the tray needs filled.

  7. I’ve heard that if you put egg shells out on the ground Jan thru March, that helps the cardinals brighten and it helps in mating. Anyone know if that is actually true?

  8. How can I keep the wrens from killing everyone in my other boxes that are not placed near the brush or woods and one box had a wren guard on it? They keep killing the chickadees and I’m sick about it .

  9. I have a feeder with a ledge for cardinals & buy the right food. They live in cedar trees around my house. They have stopped coming lately. I think it is because I will scare crows & other birds away & I think the cardinals get scared. How can I get them to come back?

  10. I have a cardinal nest in my hanging basket on my covered patio. It has four eggs and mom sits almost constantly on it.