How to attract cardinals

The Northern cardinal is an attractive and brightly colored songbird that is probably one of the most well known and noticeable wild birds of North America.  In the United States, the cardinal is the state bird of Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio.  The cardinal bird is even the mascot of a number of colleges and pro sports teams too, like the St. Louis Cardinals, Louisville Cardinals, and Stanford Cardinal just to name a few.

Cardinal bird facts

Female cardinals have reddish brown plumage and red billsWhile its’ accepted name among the bird community is the Northern Cardinal, this bird is called a number of different names – cardinal grosbeak, cardinal bunting, red bird, and cardinal bird.  Cardinals are very similar to members of the grosbeak, bunting, and finch families of birds.  The northern cardinal does not molt to dull plumage in the winter like many other wild birds, so their beautiful red and brown colors remain brilliant year round.  Both sexes of cardinals have their own distinctive plumage – male cardinals are bright red with black around the bill, while female cardinals have reddish brown tail, wings, and crest, and brownish gray underparts.  Both have thick reddish orange bills.  Juveniles look like the females, but have dark (blackish) bills.  Also, northern cardinals are non migratory, so they can be found in the same places in winter and summer.

How to attract cardinals to your yard

Using food, water, and shelter in the correct ways will attract cardinals to your backyardOne of the reasons the northern cardinal is popular among bird watchers (besides their beautiful plumage and coloring) is because they are relatively easy to attract and feed, and they are fairly common visitors in suburban neighborhoods where their pretty songs, calls, and sounds can be heard resonating thru the trees and backyards of folks all across America.  Savvy bird watchers have learned that there are 3 important things they must provide for attracting cardinals to a backyard – shelter (safe perches for resting, and safe places to nest), water, and bird feed.

Bird feed – what to feed cardinals

Cardinals like to stage and rest in secluded areas of dense vegetationKnowing what bird feed cardinals like to eat, and providing bird feed in the correct way, will give you the best results for attracting cardinals to your yard.  Cardinals are not finicky eaters, and they can be attracted with a number of different food offerings – black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seed, millet, cracked corn, peanuts, suet, fruit and berries, and bird seed and nut mixtures.  With their large thick bills, cardinals can easily crack the coverings and shells of even the hardest nuts and seeds.  Buying bulk bird seed (40 pound bags of millet and bird seed mixtures) is by far the cheapest way of feeding cardinals, however, more expensive foods like 100% black oil sunflower seed, and no waste seed and nut mixtures seem to work better to attract cardinals.  Where bird feed is presented is also vitally important for attracting cardinals, as cardinals prefer feeding from solitary locations nearby relatively thick cover (close to bushy trees and shrubs).  Additionally, offering and dispensing bird feed from specially designed bird feeders for cardinals is the best way for how to attract cardinals to your yard.

Providing water to attract cardinals

Picture of female cardinal on bird bathPutting a bird bath in your backyard is an excellent technique for attracting cardinals.  Northern cardinals frequently drink water, and like to bathe in water to clean their feathers and bills after feeding.  By placing a bird bath in your yard, and making sure it’s filled with water, you will not only be attracting cardinals, you will be providing them an essential element for their healthy survival!  Water drippers, misters, and fountains are all good ways of drawing attention to your bird bath and attracting cardinals for a drink.  Also, during winter months when water freezes, using a heated bird bath to keep water warm and thawed is essential, as cardinals need and are attracted to water just as much in winter as in summer.

Shelter for safety and nesting

Picture of male cardinal feeding babyCardinals need thickets of scrub and dense vegetation growth for shelter and for resting places.  Planting trees and bushes in your yard that grow and flourish at different heights will offer cardinals the shelter they desire and are great for attracting cardinals to hang around and feel safe and secure in your backyard.  Trees like cedars, and plants like sumac are favorites of cardinals for perching and resting places because they provide seclusion and safety, which are essential for attracting cardinals.  And since cardinals don’t use bird houses, planting cedars and sumac is also a great way to attract cardinals to build nests and raise their young right in your own backyard!

More tips for attracting cardinals

  • When pruning trees and bushes and maintaining your yard, always refrain from cutting all the branches off the trees – leave a few of the open branches so cardinals have adequate places to perch and rest.  By doing this, you will attract cardinals to stay close by, and perhaps even belt out their beautiful repertoire of songs and calls!
  • While bird baths provide cardinals with an excellent source for water, making sure they are full and the water is clean are very important.  Bird baths should be cleaned from algae build up and bacteria frequently, so make sure the water in your bird bath is always fresh and clean.  By doing so, you will greatly increase the attraction for cardinals to visit your bird bath.
  • Always make sure the bird feed you provide cardinals is fresh and plentiful.  A common pitfall for discouraging cardinals is spoiled food or an empty food tray.  Even on the worst weather days, a plentiful food source will attract cardinals and give them the nourishment they need.

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