Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Irresistible! Attract Northern Cardinals to Your Feeder

Northern Cardinals may be the most popular bird in the United States.

They are year-round residents throughout their range. They live in the eastern United States, the Southeast, and the South as far west as Arizona.

How do you attract Northern Cardinals to your feeder? Continue reading to learn how to attract Northern Cardinals to your yard.

Photo of Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. Greg Gillson.

Why attract Northern Cardinals to your bird feeder?

Male Northern Cardinals are strikingly beautiful. They are a shocking red. And they are a good-sized bird, larger than the sparrows and finches that visit your feeder. So they are easy to spot when they show up.

Unlike the shy chickadees and nuthatches, Northern Cardinals will sit in your feeder and eat seeds. They don't dash in and out as those other birds. So you can spend more time watching them.

The spring song of the Northern Cardinal is a series of loud, pleasant, short whistles. If Northern Cardinals visit your feeder, that probably means they nest in your neighborhood, too.

Guess what? Female Northern Cardinals also sing! How wonderful!

Photo of Northern Cardinal

What foods will attract Northern Cardinals to your feeder?

Northern Cardinals are fond of all types of sunflower seeds, especially black oil sunflower. 

Northern Cardinals will eat safflower seeds. These are often fed at feeders where squirrels are a problem. Most squirrels don't like safflower seeds. But I always hear of someone who has a squirrel that does like safflower seeds after all!

They will also eat peanut hearts, other mixed bird seeds. They may eat fruit and berries.

If you choose to feed a bird seed mix, make sure not to feed seed with red milo.

The best mixed bird seed that I have found is Wagner's Songbird Supreme (Amazon affiliate link). It is 50% sunflower seeds and doesn't have any cheap filler seed that birds won't eat. This seed attracts the largest variety of birds to your feeder.

In winter, Northern Cardinals will eat suet.

For my home feeders, I always purchase St Albans Bay Suet blocks (Amazon affiliate link). It comes in several flavors, including peanut and berry. They fit in required special suet cages, which are a type of bird feeder. 

Photo of Northern Cardinal

What kind of feeders do Northern Cardinals like?

Northern Cardinals like platform feeders best. Here is an example platform feeder on the Amazon website (affiliate link).

They will also feed from larger hopper feeders and larger tube feeders if they have a wide tray. They don't like small perches or any feeder where they have to hang from it to feed.

Often, though, you may see Northern Cardinals feeding on the ground below feeders.

You may scatter sunflower seed on the ground for them.

I created this YouTube video to accompany this article. My channel features birds, bird watching, and bird identification. Check it out!

Where to place your bird feeder for Northern Cardinals

In more natural settings, Northern Cardinals spend much time in low dense tangled bushes. They often feed on the ground, venturing out cautiously from the bushes.

Thus, to attract Northern Cardinals, place your bird feeder near cover, so they have dense bushes into which to escape.

They like to feed low, so place their feeder low to the ground, if possible.

However, if cats are a problem, a large hanging feeder will work too.

The closer the feeder is to the edge of the yard, the safer birds will feel, and the more they will use it. Avoid placing a feeder all by itself out in the middle of the lawn. Birds will feel too vulnerable there.

When placing your feeder, be sure you can see it out the window from your favorite chair!

Photo of Northern Cardinal

How else can you attract Northern Cardinals to your yard?

Northern Cardinals will use bird baths. They will be attracted to any water feature--especially where there is moving water that makes any kind of splashing sound. Birds really love that!

These birds will appreciate thick low bushes and hedges. They like thorny scrubby bushes, too. The unkempt edges of woods will attract them. If the bushes have any type of berries, they will likely eat them.

They also may nest in thick hedges. 

They don't nest in enclosed bird houses. But they may use a nesting shelf. These have a roof and are open on the front. Other birds that like this nesting shelf include American Robins, Eastern Phoebes, and Mourning Doves. So if you find a shelf for them, Cardinals may also use it. Here's an example of a cardinal nesting shelf on the Amazon web site (affiliate link).

Need binoculars?

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Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42 (Amazon affiliate link)

Photo of Northern Cardinal

Problems with Northern Cardinals: If you have attracted too many to your feeder

I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't want to attract Northern Cardinals to their home.

However, the following may keep cardinals from visiting.

Cardinals have trouble eating from tube feeders with small perches and no trays.

I really love the way my iBorn tube feeder (Amazon affiliate link) looks, with it's copper top.  A screwdriver takes off the lower perch and opens it up for cleaning. This feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds attracts all types of finches, chickadees, and nuthatches. The smaller perches and lack of tray mean that you'll have fewer House Sparrows, Starlings, Doves, and Jays at this feeder.

While cardinals will eat suet in winter, they don't like to hang from suet feeders as some other birds do.

I bought a Nature's Way Upside-down suet feeder (Amazon affiliate link) a couple years ago and have been very happy with it. Chickadees, nuthatches, bushtits, and woodpeckers eat from it easily. But starlings, blackbirds, and jays can't hang upside down to get at the suet.

Northern Cardinal FAQ

Ask questions in the comments below about attracting and feeding Northern Cardinals and I'll add the answer here!


Why aren't birds coming to your feeder?

First in series: Irresistible! Attract Mourning Doves to your feeder

Next in series: Irresistible! Attract Blue Jays to your feeder

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January 2023: Thank you so much for visiting! I am working on a YouTube channel on birds and bird watching. Check it out here:


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