How to Attract Cardinals
To your yard and gardens
The Northern Cardinal is probably one of the most popular backyard birds and one of the most identifiable among people all across the United States. It’s no wonder the Northern Cardinal is so popular as it is the state bird of seven states in the US. We often associate cardinals with winter and Christmas, as they are a popular bird for Christmas cards and decorations, but cardinals actually don’t migrate, so you can enjoy them all year long. In winter, cardinals tend to congregate in groups, but come spring, birds will pair up and establish a territory, so you may not see as many during the warmer months. The males are bright red with a black beak, while the females are brown with a reddish tint to them. The female cardinals are also one of a few song birds to actually sing (usually it is just the males that sing).
Cardinals prefer areas with dense shrubs. Providing evergreen trees and shrubs is ideal and if you can also provide shrubs that produce berries, you should have many cardinals in your yard. Crabapple, dogwood, serviceberry, mulberry, spruce, cedar, pine, viburnum, winterberry and wild grape are all very attractive to cardinals as well as many other song birds.
Cardinals will not nest in a birdhouse. They prefer dense shrubs and evergreen trees and tend to nest between 3’-10’ off the ground. Because cardinals can nest so close to the ground, cats can be a real problem for cardinals and their young. If you notice a cardinal nest in your yard and have a cat, you may want to keep the cat indoors until nesting season is over (about July, here). In central New York, where I live, cardinals start nesting in April and produce 2-3 broods over the course of the spring and early summer.
When nesting, cardinals can be fiercely territorial and may even attack their own reflection in a window or mirror. This behavior will subside when nesting season is over, but if it becomes a problem for you, try the following:
- If a cardinal is attacking a window of your home, try covering the inside of the window with removable colored contact paper that will reduce the reflection on the window. You can also just keep the shade closed or cover the window with cardboard until the bird has stopped attacking the window for a few days. There are also some great products out there that also look like spider webs or geometric designs that can be applied to the windows. This not only will prevent cardinals from attacking the window, but may also help other birds from accidentally flying into the window.
- If a cardinal is attacking a mirror, such as the side mirror of a vehicle, try keeping the mirrors covered with a bag or piece of cloth until the behavior stops. Remember that the bird sees himself in the mirror and thinks that his reflection is a threat to his territory. If you have a decorative mirror on a deck, patio or in a garden, consider removing it during nesting season, or try and turn it in a different direction to see if the bird still attacks it.
Cardinals love open water, so if you can provide water in a large birdbath, pond or stream, you will likely attract many cardinals as well as other birds. This is especially important in winter, so a heated birdbath may be just the answer you need to attract more cardinals.
Cardinals prefer to eat on the ground or in large platform or hopper style bird feeders. In addition to their natural diet of insects, weed seeds and berries, cardinals love black-oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds. In winter, you can place several bird feeders close together and the cardinals don’t mind, but during nesting season, it is advised to have the bird feeders placed far apart, as the cardinals will be very territorial. If you can place a feeder in the front yard and another in the back yard, you will attract more cardinals.
Hopefully these tips will help you to attract more cardinals to your yard this year. Enjoy!