Best Tips to Attract Northern Cardinals to Your Yard
Before we moved to our present location over 20 years ago, my bird feeders were visited by male and female cardinals on a regular basis. I always enjoyed seeing the bright red color of the males, and the lovely brownish-green tinted female cardinals savoring the sunflower seeds. In fact, I took it for granted that cardinals would live wherever I lived.
Such was not the case, however. At least 2 years passed and still I had no cardinals visiting my bird feeders near our new house in the wooded hills. I had assumed they would automatically be drawn in just by providing sunflowers seeds, but I was wrong!
After much research I came up with a simple plan that would not fail to attract my beloved redbirds.
Create a Cardinal Habitat
1. Provide their favorite foods
2. Supply a clean source of water year round
3. Install plants that offer shelter from bad weather and good cover from predators
4. Give them a safe place in which to build their nest
5. Add a small patch of coarse sand to provide grit
My Method for Drying Seeds
Save the seeds from muskmelons, pumpkins and squash.
Onto a thick layer of newspapers place a sheet of waxed paper. Then scatter your seeds so they are separated from each other. Allow them to remain undisturbed for several days until they are thoroughly dried. Peel them off the waxed paper and store in sealed jars in the refrigerator. Add a handful at a time to your bird feeder seeds for a special treat that cardinals love.
1. Favorite Foods of the Northern Cardinal
· Cracked corn
· Black oil sunflower seed
· Dried cherries
· DRIED PUMPKIN SEEDS, OR MELON SEEDS (a treat they cannot resist)
· Apple slices
Special Cardinal Mix Bird Food
There is a special cardinal mix available that contains dried cherries, cracked corn, safflower seeds and sunflower hearts. It is quite expensive, so I like to buy the largest bag I can and then add that to my sunflower seeds. Mix them together so they are interspersed. This will give your birds special little food treasures among their regular black oil sunflower seeds.
Cardinals enjoy eating at dusk and dawn when other birds are either done eating for the day, or haven’t yet started.
They prefer to dine by themselves without competition from other birds. So make sure there is enough food left in the feeders at the end of the day for your cardinals!
Because cardinals like to forage on the ground under the bird feeders, they love tray feeders placed on the ground.
Do Not Do This If You Have Predators Around!
If there is a chance that neighborhood cats, foxes, or other predators might be prowling, then don't use a ground feeder. It's much too risky for your birds.
2. Provide a Bird Bath
with a low-wattage heater in wintertime.
Make sure to keep the drinking water clean and ice free; cardinals also enjoy taking baths to keep their feathers in good shape.
Low-wattage heaters are safe and efficient. Look for UL listed heaters that have a cover over the heating element. They keep the water just above freezing to insure birds can quench their thirst and take a dip even in the coldest weather!
Do Cardinals Visit Your Property?
3. Protect Cardinals by Providing Shelter:
· Briars such as blackberries and/or raspberries
· Trellised climbing rose bushes, clematis and other dense climbing vines
· Grape arbor
· Holly bushes or trees
Northern Cardinal eggs and nestlings are preyed upon by many animals and birds, including hawks, owls, blue jays, cowbirds, squirrels, snakes and chipmunks.
They favor thorny and dense shrubs and bushes in which to seek shelter from predators, which are much less likely to venture into a painful or nearly impenetrable tangle of vines and sharp spines.
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4. Give Cardinals a safe, secure habitat in which to build their nests.
Cardinals mate for life and often build 2 or more nests in a season. The same plants used for shelter from predators and bad weather will afford good protection for their eggs and nestlings. The female cardinal is a skillful nest builder, probably because she does it so often!
She and her mate gather dead blades of grass, small twigs, pieces of vine and strips of bark from which she will make a loose cup-shaped nest in which to lay her 3 or 4 blue-green and white eggs. Using her beak she adeptly softens the nest material until it is pliable enough to form the desired shape by wrapping it around her body and maneuvering it into place with her beak and feet.
5. If you have room, add a small sandbox
and fill it with coarse sand from which cardinals can obtain the grit they need to help grind the seeds and grains they eat. This process occurs in their crop or gullet and aids in their ability to break down and digest the foods they ingest.
They might also choose to dust their feathers as well. This act smothers mites and other irritating pests, and helps keep their feathers clean.
Very soon after I started offering the cardinal mixture and dried melon seeds I was thrilled to catch sight of my first cardinals. I had also added a trellis to the Russian Olive that was growing on the west side of my yard; and I started a small briar patch in the backyard that is visited by many birds. Adding a bird bath with a heater insured my cardinals and lots of other birds had essential fresh water year round.
Now I am so happy when I hear the joyful ‘what-cheer, what-cheer’ calls of the cardinals as they approach the bird feeders late in the day and early in the morning. In the wintertime, especially when it is cold and sunny and there is a blanket of snow on the ground, they appear during the day. They love to forage on top of the snow for any fallen seeds and cracked corn. It is a sight that makes the long winter much more easily endured!