If you're like me, you LOVE cardinals. In this post, you'll learn how to choose the best cardinal bird feeder, food, and location to attract (and keep) cardinals in your yard – instead of searching for them in the woods.
More reading: Must Have Bird Watching Gear
How to Choose the Best Cardinal Bird Feeder
Deep vibrant reds through to intense dark oranges, the glorious red hues of a Cardinal are admired by anyone happening to see them whether in the wild or in your own backyard. Add to that their melodic voice and is it any wonder people love these birds.
For this reason, Cardinals are one of the most highly sought after birds that thousands of people specifically trying to attract into their garden each year.
Plus, seeing a bright red puffed up Cardinal on a bleak winters day is enough to make anyone smile.
Find more bright colored birds on our list of the 26 most colorful birds in the world!
Cardinals are on the most easily identifiable species of birds.
A little broader than the average ground feeding bird of their size, they like to have room to move on a feeder while feeling protected.
So, if you are hoping to attract them then you will need to take a few things into consideration when purchasing and placing your feeder in the garden.
Location, location, location as they say. Once your feeder is in the right spot, and they know it is there, you stand a good chance of having some year-round feathered friends to brighten up those dreary winters with a splash of color.
Want to see some cardinals? Here's an overwhelming amount at one feeder.
Choosing the best place for your feeder
In general, Cardinals don’t like to be exposed. The best way to make them feel safe so they keep coming back is to provide sheltered hiding places and protection.
If they have hiding places nearby, protection from predators like hawks and cats, the likelihood of being disturbed and an adequate supply of water etc. will all affect where you locate your feeder.
Placing it near to shrubbery of varying heights so they have places to dart off and hide, will help the Cardinal come out and feed. If there are trees overhead this will offer protection from predators like hawks.
Places frequently visited in the garden will also affect how often they visit. Instead, when placed in an area of the garden that is less frequented they will feel secure and are more likely to spend time out enjoying their seed. That means they will stay longer and you have more opportunities of enjoying them or photographing them.
Where Not to Place Your Feeder: 5 Places to Avoid
- Right next to your main walkway hoping to see them more often. Then chances are the birds will never come out as there are giants (you) stamping around nearby.
- Placing your feeder right in the middle of your yard, out in the open with no protection. This leaves them vulnerable to predators.
- Never put the feeder close to windows as this will increase the likelihood of window strike if they are startled and take off, or the males attacking themselves in the reflective surface because they are territorial. Although not usually fatal, they can harm their beaks and get stressed.
- Remember they are ground feeders so hanging it up way up high in a tree's branches won’t be as appealing and chances are they won’t use it.
- Place it in a spot where predators like cats can lay in wait for an easy meal.
Follow these tips and once you have found the perfect place in your garden for your feeder you’re ready to get started.
If you have some shy cardinals, you might need a great set of binoculars. Here are some premium birding binoculars to consider.
What do Cardinals Eat?
Armed with strong beaks, Cardinals love big hearty seeds they can sink their beaks into. Insects are feasted upon during the summer months but as these drop off in winter they mainly rely on seeds and berries.
Their favorites and the ones most likely to attract them are:
- Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
- White Milo
- Cracked corn
Finding a mix of these to fill your feeder is the perfect way to entice Cardinals into your yard. You can buy and mix your own, or there are many good brands with quality ingredients available.
They don’t have to contain every seed on the list, a blend of just two is fine. Cardinals aren’t that picky.
- Wagner’s 62032 Cardinal Blend – is chock full of a Cardinals favorites. 60% black oil sunflower seeds, 40% safflower, it’s full of the high-energy seeds that these birds love, in a resealable bag to lock in the freshness. Check current price.
- Kaytee Nut and Fruit Blend – is one variety mix with chewy and crunchy pieces they will go nuts over. Full of high energy seeds, berries, and nuts it has all the essentials to attract and keep cardinals coming back or staying year-round. Check current price.
- Audubon Park 12231 Cardinal Blend Wild Bird Food – is another blend built for Cardinals. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds and Safflower provide the much-needed energy these red beauties need every day. Check current price.
Now that you have chosen a mix that will attract Cardinals to your garden and you have chosen the perfect place to put your feeder, let’s talk about choosing the right feeder for you.
How to Choose Your Cardinal Bird Feeder
When bird lovers get together and debate about this and that, the best types and designs of bird feeders for different species of birds is a hot topic. Some will have success with one type of feeder so swear it is the best (because it works).
While others will swear that their feeder is better (because it works), so let’s just agree that you can have more than one type of feeder that a bird will be attracted to and feel comfortable enough to eat from.
For Cardinals, people have found that hopper and platform feeders are preferred because they have room to move and pick out their seeds. An overhead cover will help them feel safe and greatly increase your chances of them coming to your feeder.
Depending on where you live, if you have squirrels you may want to take the time to get a squirrel proof feeder so all of your seed doesn’t disappear into the wrong mouth.
Providing a platform for birds to land on, have room to move around and choose their seed as it is highly visible, will appeal to birds like Cardinals.
Because they are ground feeders, when you first start out sprinkle some extra seed on the ground to let them know it is there. Not too much though, or you’ll have a wave of squirrels arriving with all of their cousins too!
These platforms can be individual or part of a bigger structure called a feeding station.
Rhino Tuff Products Bird Feeder Stand – provides an excellent example of a feeding station. Complete with stabilizers, it is adjustable so you can set it up how you would like depending on the birds you are trying to attract.
Enough room for hanging feeders, hopper feeders, a platform feeder and a water dish means you can attract several species at once on multiple levels.
Solid metal construction means it stands up to all weather conditions and squirrel attacks. It’s easy to clean and will hold 2.5lbs of Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, the Cardinals favorite.
90% post-consumer recycled plastic sides that won’t chip, degrade due to moisture or fade are paired with a durable powder coated perforated bottom that encourages drainage and ventilation of seed.
The lips are wide enough for a Cardinal to perch on comfortably while feeding and there’s enough room for their whole family and 20 of their closest friends.
These generally have the added benefit of being squirrel proof and adding a little more protection to the seed than an outdoor platform feeder.
Perky-Pet Squirrel Be Gone II Country House Bird Feeder with Weathervane – is easily mounted or hung depending on the location you have chosen in your garden. It is easily filled and has a lock down roof.
Feeding slots are adjustable to stop larger birds with the added bonus of being 100% squirrel proof. Complete with a Red Cardinal weathervane and protective overhang, it’s perfect for attracting Cardinals.
Four wide mouth feeding ports and perches allows multiple birds to feed at once.
Feeding more than one species of bird, it has snap on suet baskets and can hold 15 lbs of seed.
5 Tips For Getting Them to Stay
Although a little shy, Cardinals readily come to well-placed bird feeders once they know they are there. Being territorial and having 1-3 broods per year means you have a good chance of getting them to stay year-round.
- Leave twigs, grass clippings, pine needles, any small brush where it is to encourage them to nest with readily available materials.
- Shrub thickets, dense bush or hedges are ideal places they like to nest. Unlike other species, they won’t use nesting boxes and birdhouses so try and make sure there are plenty of other choices for them.
- Have a water source with fresh water year-round. During winter prevent it from freezing over if you can so they have access.
- Plant additional trees and shrubs of varying heights to provide a wealth of sheltered protected places both to hide and nest.
- Keep an eye out for predators. If the neighbor’s cat starts to stroll over to your yard regularly once the bird feeder is installed, then you may need to politely talk to your neighbor or look for alternative places to put your feeder… or buy a dog.
With their basic needs of food, water, shelter and appropriate nesting sites all met and in abundance in your garden then you have supplied everything they need to stay all year long and brighten up your winters.
3 Things to Avoid (If you want them to stay)
Red by color and feisty by nature, Cardinals are territorial so you will need to take this into consideration. Yes, they are shy and need plenty of hiding places but when it comes down to it, they will defend their territory, especially once they take up residence and start nesting.
Taking this into consideration, there are some things to avoid and to think about if you haven’t already.
- Avoid – using harsh or harmful chemicals in the garden. Those bushes could be full of baby cardinals now so any chemicals carried into your shrubbery will be coating, inhaled by and harmful to baby birds.
- Avoid – reflective surfaces. Now you have made your yard a haven for cardinals, when they take up residency any reflective surfaces may be seen as a threat and attacked. This can lead to damaged beaks and an inability to feed, fatigue if they attack repeatedly and stress. After all, they are bright red so it’s not like they’ll miss themselves in a mirror!
- Avoid – placing your feeder near possible predators (too close to the ground or shrub). Yes, Cardinals are ground feeders but will readily go to and use bird feeders once they know they are there. This means that after the initial sprinkling of seed on the ground to attract them to your feeder, it is best to stop this once they have become accustomed to using it.
If you like cardinals, you'll love this video of a pair of Northern cardinals feeding their three chicks.
Watch on YouTube
How do you attract cardinals? What success have you been having? Let us know in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing.
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.