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Best Tips to Attract Northern Cardinals to Your Yard

Updated on June 8, 2013
grandmapearl profile image

At a very young age Connie learned from her Grandma Pearl to observe and love backyard birds. She stills feeds and studies them everyday.

Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in tangled grape arbor,  an ideal addition to your backyard Cardinal habitat.
Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in tangled grape arbor, an ideal addition to your backyard Cardinal habitat. | Source

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.

Beautiful Red Cardinal against the Blue Sky.
Beautiful Red Cardinal against the Blue Sky. | Source

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

· suet

Cardinals are ground feeders, and love to forage under the bird feeders.
Cardinals are ground feeders, and love to forage under the bird feeders. | Source

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.

Female cardinal foraging in the snow for seeds.
Female cardinal foraging in the snow for seeds. | Source
Tray feeder can be placed on the ground or hung from a hook or pole hanger arm.
Tray feeder can be placed on the ground or hung from a hook or pole hanger arm. | Source

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.

Cardinal at the bird bath.
Cardinal at the bird bath. | Source

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?

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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.

Cardinal's nest with nestlings awaiting Mama or Papa Cardinal's return.
Cardinal's nest with nestlings awaiting Mama or Papa Cardinal's return. | Source

from bradmichele on

Trellis made of 2 x 4's and wooden lattice.
Trellis made of 2 x 4's and wooden lattice. | Source

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!

Cardinal in the snow.
Cardinal in the snow. | Source

Is Your Yard a Cardinal Habitat?

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    • profile image

      your worst nightmare 

      4 months ago

      gg bois

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      We have a male cardinal which had been visiting our home and taps on our car windows since my dad died a few months ago. He hangs out on myclimbing rose trells and close to our garage.

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Theophanes, I'm pleased you enjoyed this article. Yes, thorny bushes would definitely appeal to cardinals. I don't like to hear anyone called a bird brain as a disparaging remark for several reasons; and one of them is that birds are very smart creatures. It makes a whole lot of sense to me to locate a nest where it would be difficult for predators to reach the eggs or babies!

      Thanks so much for the votes and comments. They are very much appreciated :)

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      6 years ago from New England

      Huh, I always wondered why we had so many cardinals in the area... we do have an awfully lot of thorn bushes.. very neat. Thanks for the info. Voted up amongst other things!

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi Irish, So glad you stopped by! As a matter of fact, this afternoon we have to cut some wood. We're trying to play catch up because my husband was too busy to cut wood when it was warm out! But we have enough wood right now to keep us warm for the month at least.

      I'm pleased you enjoyed this article. I don't think there's a prettier North American bird than the cardinal. Thanks for your supportive comments. I very much appreciate them and You, my friend!


    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Wonderful article my friend. One of my favorite pass times is watching these little feathered buddies outside my window. Great suggestions.

      Hope you are bundled up and staying warm.

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Thank you so much dear Eddy! We had a very nice and quiet Christmas, and hope that all this snow (12"+ so far) is not a sign of the rest of the winter! I guess we were spoiled by the nice, unusually warm weather before all these storms hit. I really appreciate all your supportive comments, votes and shares. It's always fun to hear from you. I'm so glad you stopped by to visit! I hope the New Year is good to all of us.

      Love, Pearl

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      What a wonderful hub Pearl;as always full of info and brilliant photos. I have to vote across/up and share all around. I hope you had a great Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year ahead.Here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here.

      Lots of love


    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Thanks Deb! Cardinals are one of my very favorite birds as you can tell. I wanted to link your article to this one, but could not remember the title exactly. It did not come up when I did the 'suggest links' thing either. If you could give me the exact title, I'd be glad to link to it. Just a thought.

      I truly appreciate you and your wonderful support.

      We did have a storm, but it wasn't nearly as snowy as predicted. We have had high winds, but today the sun is shining and the snow is melting.

      Have a wonderful Christmas my friend!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A truly beautiful piece! Your information is excellent and well-thought out. Awesome and up.

    • grandmapearl profile imageAUTHOR

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      You are right, Billy. The Northern Cardinal is a resident of the Eastern US and Southern Canada and Nova Scotia to Florida and the Gulf Coast States westward to Southern Texas, Arizona and Southern Cali all the way to Mexico and northward from there to the Dakotas. Sorry you missed out on this gorgeous bird!

      And thank you for your great comments as always. You are one of my best supporters! Pearl

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't think we have cardinals in this area; if we do, I've never seen one. Great information, Pearl! I'm slightly jealous. :)


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