How To Attract Cardinals To Your Backyard? (7 Effective Ways)

How To Attract Cardinals

While blue jays, orioles, and finches are all attractive backyard birds, there will come a time when these birds will fly off to faraway lands (migration), leaving your yard bereft. But do you know which bird can stick around all year long? You’re right; we’re talking about the cardinals.

These colorful songbirds can be your consistent backyard companions, even during the winters. However, while these birds are loyal to their feeders, attracting them to yours is the tricky part.

Here are 7 effective ways of attracting cardinals to your backyard:

  1. A cardinal-friendly feeder: Cardinals are stocky birds that prefer feeders with a firm foundation. Otherwise, they might face trouble in sitting on them.
  2. Offering them an irresistible buffet: Cardinals are quite fond of eating seeds of elder box, muskmelon, squash, safflower, sunflower, ragweed, and so on. Feed them what they like, and you’ll always find them on your feeder.
  3. Heated birdbaths: Cardinals often struggle to find a water source during winters. If you have a heated birdbath for them, they’re certainly going to visit your backyard.
  4. Avoiding reflective surfaces
  5. Protecting them from predators
  6. Keeping their feeders clean
  7. Creating a butterfly-friendly backyard

Are you planning on inviting these bright red birds to your yard? Feeling confused about how you should go about it? Don’t worry; we have got you.

In this article, we will talk about everything you can do to attract the cardinals to your yard, including setting up the right food, feeder, birdbath, and more.


Are there any cardinals in your locality?

Before we move on to discuss how you can attract cardinals into your yard, let’s first figure out whether you can find these birds in your area.

As you might already know, cardinals are non-migratory birds that remain in the same region throughout their lives. So, if these birds are not native to where you live, you might never see them around no matter how much you try.

Northern Cardinals are widespread across the eastern and central parts of North America, extending from southern regions of Canada and Mexico to Central America.

Within the United States, cardinals’ distribution ranges from the southern parts of Maine to the Texas-Mexico border. Towards the west, they can be found in Nebraska and South Dakota.

In the south, they’re most common in Florida and the Gulf Coast.

Additionally, these songbirds have been introduced in California, Bermuda, and Hawaii. It means that the residents of these regions also have a good chance of attracting cardinals to their backyard.

But how would you go about it? Keep reading if you want to find out.


Setting up a cardinal-friendly feeder

As you already know, the first step to inviting any bird into your yard is to set up feeders for them; the same is true for cardinals. But will just any bird feeder work for these birdies? No, not really.

Before you purchase/build a feeder for the cardinals, there are a few things that you should keep in mind.

Cardinals prefer standing feeders

Did you know that cardinals weigh over 43 grams on average? These birds are quite heavy and, thus, need a firmly grounded feeder to feed conveniently.

Pole feeders, hopper feeders, and platform feeders are all a good fit for these birdies so that you can pick any of them.  

Avoid getting a tube feeder

Most birders make the mistake of purchasing tube feeders for cardinals, having heard or read somewhere that they work great for these birds. However, that’s not true.

As we just discussed, a feeder without a firm platform to accommodate the cardinals will make them feel nervous and insecure.

Hanging feeders like tube feeders are perfect for smaller birds such as finches and goldfinches, chickadees, grosbeaks, and sparrow species. For medium-sized birds like the cardinals, these feeders are not such a good idea.

Another problem with tube feeders is that birds need to twist their bodies to feed on them. And while some birds are okay with it, cardinals are not one of them.

These songbirds prefer to feed facing forward and will, therefore, avoid tube feeders if they have a choice.

Pro-tip: If you’ve already purchased a tube feeder and want to attract cardinals to it, there’s a simple trick you can use for it.

All you need to do is attach a tray at the bottom of the feeder and scatter seeds on it. The tray will provide these birdies with plenty of room to perch and feed on the seeds without struggling with the feeding ports.

Ground feeders are always a hit with them

It might come as a surprise to many, but cardinals are primarily ground foragers and like to feed on the ground, particularly close to the shrubs. You might’ve noticed that these birdies seem more attracted to the seeds fallen on the ground than the ones in the feeders.  

The only problem with ground feeders is squirrels, which often raids the ground feeders before the cardinals get a chance. But if these critters are not a problem in your locality, we recommend you go with ground feeders for the cardinals.

These feeders are inexpensive (you can literally use an old tray from your kitchen) as well as convenient to refill and clean.

The right feeder placement can be a bonus

Most birders hang their feeders in open areas to easily catch the birds’ attention visiting their backyard. And while this trick might work on some birds, they’re not likely to work for the cardinals.

Cardinals are the kind of birds that value their privacy. They enjoy inhabiting secluded areas surrounded by dense vegetation.

Therefore, to attract them, you should place your feeder amidst the trees and plants of your yard, where the cardinals will feel secure among the greenery they’re used to.

A six-layered coverage, which should consist of the following, is quite popular with the cardinals:

  • small trees
  • small shrubs
  • large trees
  • large shrubs
  • perennials
  • ground cover


Offer them an irresistible buffet

Once you have the suitable feeder in the right place, you can hope for the cardinals to visit your yard. But wait, aren’t you forgetting something?

Yes, we’re talking about bird food. Putting out the right treats for the birds is just as important as setting up their feeder properly, if not more.

But what should you feed cardinals? Well, that’s not a tricky question. Cardinals are pretty flexible with their diet. These birds have sturdy beaks and can easily eat nuts, seeds, berries, fruits, and even insects.

Let’s take a peek into their diet to see what they like most:

  • sunflower (striped and black oil) seeds
  • safflower seeds (both shelled and unshelled)
  • elder box seeds
  • muskmelon seeds
  • squash seeds
  • ragweed seeds
  • millet
  • peanuts
  • buckwheat
  • cracked corn
  • mulberries
  • elderberries
  • grapes
  • cherries
  • apples
  • moths
  • worms
  • crickets
  • beetles
  • cicadas

Suet for winters

The winters are more difficult on the cardinals than summers due to the scarcity of natural food sources in the wild. It is during these months that they need extra energy for warmth and sustenance.

Being a mixture of seeds and animal fat, Suet can provide these little birdies with all the nutrition they need in the winters.

Cardinals prefer their feeders to be full at all times.

One of the reasons why cardinals are so popular among the birders is that these birds do not migrate.

They stay at the same place throughout their lives, and once they’ve grown familiar with your feeder, they’ll keep returning to your yard all year long.

It is also why these birdies need a stable food source and are always looking for feeders that are regularly refilled.

If you’re lousy about refilling your feeder or waiting until they’re empty to refill them, cardinals might see it as a problem and wouldn’t want to stick around. Therefore, keeping your feeders full at all times is another trick to lure cardinals into your yard.


Birdbaths: the favorite attraction of the cardinals

It is no secret to us that birdbaths are a success among most backyard birds, including cardinals. These birds not only need water for hydration but also enjoy splashing around in it immensely.

Moving water sources are all the more appealing to the cardinals so that you can go for those as well.

Consider getting a heated birdbath for winters

Just as with food, cardinals also suffer from water scarcity during winters, as most of their water resources (both natural and man-made) are frozen in the cold climate.

And since water is vital for their survival, its unavailability leads to the death of hundreds of birds. If you want to prevent that from happening, you should consider purchasing a heated birdbath for your backyard birds.

A heated birdbath will ensure that the water doesn’t freeze over even in falling temperatures, giving them access to drinking water all year round.


Reflective surfaces can be a threat

You might be wondering how reflective surfaces could be a threat to the cardinals?

Well, although these birds are otherwise sweet and social, males tend to be highly territorial. It happens most often during the breeding season when their hormones are at their peak.

Sometimes, when these birds come across a mirror, glass wall, or window, they mistake their own reflection for an intruder. In an attempt to defend their territory, they end up fighting with their reflection, a fight that might also last for days at times.

In these fights, the cardinals hurt themselves and suffer from unnecessary stress. That’s why we recommend you avoid exposing your feathered friends to reflective surfaces.

If you already happen to have such a reflective surface on your property, you can take the following cautionary steps to protect the cardinals:

  • Use bird tapes on your windows. When applied properly, these long-lasting tapes can help the birds detect the barrier and avoid a collision.
  • Using mosquito or bird nets can help, too.
  • If you have a car, try to keep it under its cover when it is parked in the open.
  • You can also consider relocating your bird feeders to a safe spot.


Protection from predators is essential

Earlier, we discussed how cardinals are shy birds and prefer to feed in seclusion. But did you know that they can be caught off-guard pretty easily as well? These birds have several predators, and some of them can easily access your yard.

If you want to protect the cardinals from predation, use repellent sprays and high fencing to keep their predator away from your property.

Also, if you happen to have a pet dog or cat, make sure they don’t end up gobbling the birds when they’re foraging on the ground.


Are you keeping your feeder clean enough?

Because the birds that come to your yards are used to living in the wild, most birders assume that cleanliness will not be an issue for them.

However, these birds are also prone to falling sick or catching infections in an unclean environment, just as the pet birds.

To ensure that your backyard feeders are not falling sick due to your carelessness, you be must be regular and thorough about cleaning your feeders.

A thorough cleaning includes brushing, dusting, washing, and checking for mold or mildew accumulation signs.

If your feeder attracts more than a handful of birds daily, you would need to clean it once a week; otherwise, once in two weeks would work.


Creating a butterfly-friendly backyard

Butterflies are colorful little flies that can liven up the whole landscape of your yard. But how can they help you in creating a cardinal-friendly atmosphere?

Well, they are essential elements of their natural habitat, so if you’re planning on these birds nesting in your yard, providing them with a familiar environment can be surprisingly beneficial.

Butterflies can also work as a food source for baby cardinals

Another benefit of having butterflies in your yard (which might seem a little cruel) is to create a major food source for cardinals’ younger ones.

The fledglings of these birds need a substantial amount of animal protein to help them grow, which is why cardinals often feed them caterpillars.

If these birds can find caterpillars right in your backyard, that will certainly convince them to nest there.  

Attracting butterflies is not such a difficult task. These near-sighted flies are attracted to blooming flowers growing together in a cluster.

So, you can plant some of these flowering plants in your garden for them. Also, leave behind some weeds and wildflowers that they can feed on.


Frequently asked questions

Are all northern cardinals red?

Nope. Only the males harbor a bright red plumage, whereas the females have a tan body with a faded red wash across their chest. The males get their attractive color from their diet (the carotenoids they consume).

Why do cardinals cover themselves with ants?

The cardinals voluntarily cover themselves with ants belonging to a specific subfamily. These ants don’t bite but merely release formic acid that helps the cardinals get rid of lice. The entire process is known as “Anting” and is performed by many other birds, including the turkeys and orioles.



With their brilliantly colored feathers and warbling songs, cardinals are the charming birds that you’d definitely want to see in your backyard.

Apart from these qualities, their non-migratory nature has made these birds even more popular among the birds. But if you’re planning on inviting these little birdies to your yards, there are certain steps you might have to take for it.

Although luring them to your yard might seem like a lot of work in the beginning, it will totally be worth your while in the long run. Wondering why?

It is because, with the right motivation, cardinals will even build their nests in your yard, becoming long-term (sometimes permanent) guests of your backyard.