10 Tips On How To Attract Cardinals

how to attract cardinals


One of the most welcome visitors to any backyard is the beautiful Northern Cardinal. These fascinating birds never fail to entertain us with their shocking red plumage and lively antics, and feeding cardinals can be a real treat. But what attracts cardinals to your backyard?

For this article, I’ve put together a list of ten tips on how to attract cardinals to help you bring in more of these jewels of the bird world.  

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10 Tips On How To Attract Cardinals

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Put Out The Cardinals Favorite Food

Attracting cardinals can be as simple as putting out the foods they love, but what do cardinals eat? Cardinals aren’t super fussy about what they eat and will happily feed on all sorts of fruits, seeds, and even insects. They definitely do have their favorites though and the best foods to put out are black oil or striped sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.

They also love peanuts, cracked corn, and suet, especially in the winter. Now that you know what kind of bird seed cardinals like, don’t forget that insects are an important food source too. These birds feed their babies insects, so mealworms are a great choice to feed and attract cardinals when they are working hard to feed their chicks in the nest.

1. Keep The Feeders Clean And Full

There is more to attracting our favorite birds than just knowing what to feed cardinals. It may seem like an obvious point but if you aren’t keeping your feeders full of the cardinals’ favorite food, your local cardinals are probably going to go looking elsewhere for their lunch. Feeders that hold a large amount of seed are helpful here but responsible bird watchers always make a point of keeping their feeders clean to keep their visitors healthy. 

Make it part of your routine to clean your feeders every couple of days. Especially after wet weather that can cause the food to spoil quickly. All you need to do is empty the feeder, take it apart, and give it a good wash with hot water and soap before refilling it with fresh food. 

2. Keep The Squirrels Away

what do cardinals eat

Even though squirrels can be cute, they can also empty out your feeders in record time, sending the cardinals elsewhere. The best way to prevent this is to physically keep squirrels from your bird feeders by using baffles and a good quality bird feeder station.

Another great way to keep the squirrels away from the cardinal birds’ food is to put out safflower seeds that these greedy rodents aren’t crazy about. 

3. Use The Right Feeders

The best feeders for cardinals hold plenty of birdseed and have good perching space so that the birds can feed in comfort. Some of the best bird feeder styles for these birds include:   

Remember, you don’t have to limit your offerings to one feeder. Putting out a few feeders of different styles will increase your chances of attracting more cardinals and limit the competition between the birds in your yard. 

4. Put Your Feeders In The Right Spots

Knowing how to attract cardinals to your backyard isn’t only about the food you put into the feeders, you also have to put them in the right places

The best place to set up your feeders is in a quiet place that doesn’t get too much traffic from children and animals. This should be an area where birds can feed safely and securely. Your feeders should be high enough above the ground and far enough away from dense cover to keep the birds safe from hungry cats.

At the same time, nearby cover offers birds a safe retreat from hawks so a distance of around 10-15ft from some trees or bushes is probably ideal. Position your feeders away from large windows and glass doors as these can also be very dangerous to our feathered friends.  

5. Does Feeder Color Matter?

Fortunately, cardinals will visit bird feeders of any color so you’re free to pick one that suits your preference. One study by students in England found that birds were most attracted to bird feeders painted green or silver, but the results weren’t all that overwhelming and there were no cardinals involved so don’t worry about that too much. 

So, attracting cardinals doesn’t have much to do with the color of your bird feeder, but green is a pretty good color for a bird feeder, I think.

6. Put Out Water

attracting cardinals

Cardinals need a good, fresh water source for bathing and drinking. A simple bird bath works great for most of the year but if you live in an area with cold winters, heated bird baths are a great tool for keeping the water from freezing over. 

Running water stays fresher for longer and birds love bathing in it so another great option is a solar birdbath fountain. However you choose to put out water to attract cardinals, remember to keep it clean, fresh, and full.   

7. Provide Nesting Sites

cardinal birds food

Cardinals nest in the dense foliage of trees and bushes. If you don’t already have some dense growth in your yard of heights up to about 15 feet, and you’d like to encourage these birds to nest in your yard, consider planting one or more of these plants in a quiet area of the yard:

  • Dogwood
  • Hemlock
  • Elms
  • Honeysuckle
  • Box Elders
  • Sugar Maples

8. Plant Natural Food Sources

In the wild, where cardinals don’t have the luxury of visiting bird feeders, these birds eat fruits and seeds from a variety of wild and native plants. Growing the right kind of plants will attract cardinals while providing a natural and varied food source to supplement what you put out in your feeders. 

Consider planting plants that attract cardinals like:

  • Dogwood
  • Wild grape
  • Buckwheat
  • Mulberry
  • Hackberry 
  • Blackberry
  • Sumac
  • Tulip trees

9. Put Bells On Cats

attract cardinals

One of the biggest dangers to birds in your yard and neighborhood comes in the form of domestic cats. Cats tend to hunt birds by stalking their prey from cover before rushing out to attack. 

One great way to protect birds is to make sure your cat is wearing a bell on its collar. The jingling sound of the bell helps to alert birds before cats are able to catch them. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best bird feeder for cardinals?

Good quality tube, hopper, and platform feeders are the best kinds of feeders to attract cardinals.

What color feeder attracts cardinals?

Cardinals aren’t really attracted to the color of bird feeders but there is a small amount of evidence that points to birds preferring green and silver feeders. Knowing what to feed cardinals is definitely more important than feeder color. 

What plants attract cardinals?

Plants that provide a good source of food and nesting sites are best for attracting cardinals. Dogwood, mulberry, tulip tree, honeysuckle, and sugar maples are all good options. 

What do cardinals like to eat?

Cardinals like to eat seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects. Safflower and sunflower seeds are some of their favorite foods.

Final Thoughts

With these ten tips on how to attract cardinals, you should have a colorful cardinal in your yard in no time. The great thing is that following these tips is sure to bring in a variety of other songbirds too. Happy birdwatching!


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