Some of my favorite birds at my feeder are my pair of cardinals. I absolutely adore their vibrant colors, their chirp, and general presence whenever they perch on my feeding tray. And I know I am not the only one that loves these feathered friends. Cardinals are a mark of success to any birder and the nice thing is that once you get them, they will probably stick around for quite a long time! This post is going to tell you a little more about cardinals and how to attract them/keep them at your feeders!
First things first, identifying them is pretty easy. The males (pictured above) are the bright red color. The females (pictured below) have more of a brown to their feathers. They both have bright orange beaks that have a lot of power behind them. Their call is somewhat sharp but clearly identifiable. Here’s a quick fun fact (and a good feeding tip!): cardinals actually get their red color from their diet. So, if you want some really red cardinals, you need to feed them their proper diet of carotenoid rich foods. Dogwood trees produce berries that cardinals go after. They will also go after dried cranberries and dried cherries. They will also pick fruit off of blueberry bushes and mulberry trees. When a male is a richer red, it will have an easier time attracting a mate. Additionally, feeding any type of bird what food it wants will naturally encourage it to stick around your yard.
Beyond just fruits, however, cardinals eat a good bit of things! Cardinals will eat suet (especially SuperSuet as it contains all the goodies cardinals love), most types of birdseed, Barkbutter products, and mealworms.
If you are looking for a suet for cardinals, I would suggest one that is fruity and/or insect rich. While the cardinals will eat the actual suet, having those extra treats all in one place makes the cardinal’s life easier. You will notice them eating a good deal of suet this time of the year!
Cardinals will eat most types of birdseed. They are not the biggest fans of nuts or millet however. Their favorite seed is safflower. So when trying to attract cardinals, get seed blends that include safflower more so than the seeds the cardinals don’t like.
If you are wanting to attract cardinals with Barkbutter, I suggest you read my post dedicated to fall feeding. That post details a good bit about Barkbutter. Cardinals definitely eat it up!
Lastly, mealworms are a big favorite of cardinals. This is probably the best view to watch cardinals eat too because they often perch and eat the worms whereas other birds (e.g., wrens) will take a worm and fly off. A common question that arises with mealworms is “Do the birds prefer live or dehydrated mealworms?” My answer: all birds are going to forever prefer the live worms over the dried ones. Some people have great luck with dehydrated ones, but the live ones have more protein, fat, and nutrients. You have a better chance of bringing cardinals in with live ones and the birds will be happier!
The great thing about all of these foods is that they will also bring in quite a bit of other birds too! Luckily, cardinals are generally pretty friendly and will share space. They are not as territorial as a blue jay or anything like that. Cardinals are beautiful birds and we’re lucky to have them with us year-round. Share any great cardinal pictures in the comments below!
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