Northern Cardinals are probably the most desired of all backyard-visiting birds. With their vibrant plumage and beautiful songs, it’s no wonder people want to attract Cardinals to their yards.
Luckily for bird lovers, Cardinals are not particularly hard to please. With a few simple alterations to your backyard and bird feeder set up, your yard could soon become a haven for these beloved birds.
Northern Cardinals are non-migratory birds, meaning that once you draw them to your yard they are likely to stay there year-round. This also means, however, that if Cardinals aren’t native to your area, you won’t be able to do anything to attract them to your yard.
Cardinals can be found in the north as far as Maine and parts of southern Canada. In the south, they extend through Central America and the Gulf Coast. They are native to the west as far as South Dakota and Texas. In addition to their native regions, Cardinals have been introduced to Hawaii, southwestern California, and Bermuda.
Choose the Right Food
The first step to attracting any bird is to supply them with the food they enjoy. Northern Cardinals feature a strong, thick beak, which is perfect for large seeds and other hearty foods. Safflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, and white milo are among a Northern Cardinal’s favorite seed options. In addition to large seeds, Cardinals enjoy eating crushed peanuts, cracked corn, and berries. During the winter, small chunks of suet are another great choice. Be sure to check regularly that your feeders are filled, particularly during the early morning and late evening when Cardinals prefer to eat. Once Cardinals realize that your backyard offers a year-round, reliable food source, they will likely take up a permanent residence.
Use Proper Feeders
In conjunction with the type of food you offer, you need to select the proper types of feeders to suit your Cardinal friends. Your feeders need to be sturdy enough to support the birds. The weight of a Cardinal is approximately equal to 9 U.S. nickels (1.5 ounces), which is actually on the heavy side for a feeder bird. In fact, lightweight, hanging feeders are best avoided because they may sway under a Cardinal’s weight. Platform feeders and bird feeders with built-in trays that provide enough space to perch are usually preferred. Cardinals are broader, full-breasted birds, so they require more space when visiting a feeder.
Cardinals need easy access to water for both drinking and bathing. Providing bird baths or bird waterers is the perfect way to satisfy this need. As with the feeders, a birdbath needs to accommodate the size of these larger birds. Baths with a depth of 2 to 3 inches at the deepest point are usually best. To attract Cardinals to your birdbaths, you may consider adding drippers to keep the water moving. Keep in mind, whichever method you choose, water should be changed, and vessels should be cleaned frequently to prevent algae and dirt buildup.
Unlike many other backyard birds, Cardinals will not use birdhouses or nesting boxes. In addition to enjoying dense plant life for shelter, they also prefer it for nesting. Grapevines, tall trees, and shrub thickets are ideal options for nest sites. Readily available nesting materials are also essential to encouraging long-term Cardinal nesting. Make sure that your yard features pine needles, small twigs, grass clippings, and other materials so that Cardinal visitors will build a nest nearby.