Cardinals are bright, beautiful birds that have a variety of sweet calls. A flock will make an early morning chorus that is unmatched anywhere. They are most vocal in the spring during mating season but will also celebrate sunny days even during winter.
The males’ bright coats make a showy picture at your bird feeder, whether the backdrop is snow, seer winter grass, or a bright green summer lawn. The modest females, with their soft gray or brown coats lightly touched with orange, are also lovely. Both are easily distinguished from other birds by their orange-red beaks and black masks.
Spreading a Feast for Cardinals
To attract any sort of birds, but cardinals, in particular, offer a ready food supply and fresh water. Cardinals are seed-loving birds. Black-oil Sunflower and Safflower seeds are two of cardinal’s favorites. A few other choices include white millet, cracked corn, and striped sunflower seeds.
You can purchase cardinal seed mixes at most stores that carry birdseed. If you do not see such an item, look for a wild bird seed mix that leans heavily toward sunflowers and other large seeds. Platform feeders are a great choice for larger seed mixes and give cardinals plenty of room to perch while eating.
You can also offer peanut butter rolled in seeds (save your pinecones to make these), suet – which is the beef or sheep fat that has been cut away from the meat. You can often purchase the latter from your local butcher.
Providing Habitat & Nesting Areas
Trees that allow areas of safety away from neighborhood cats and other predators are essential for cardinals since they do not typically make use of nesting boxes. Evergreens are their favorites since these will offer winter shelter as well as a secluded space for nesting in summer. Northern cardinals like to nest three or four feet off the ground, so a row of evergreen shrubs or a tidy hedge can offer space for your feathered neighbors.
Creating an Edible Garden for the Birds
If you garden, cardinals are your friend. While they are hearty seed eaters, and enjoy small fruits with a nutty center, during nesting season they will make heavy inroads on beetles, caterpillars, aphids and even snails in your garden. The growing young require a high protein diet to develop muscle and to grow well and are fed almost exclusively on insects.
You can make some very happy cardinals by growing a butterfly garden that will attract a variety of egg-laying butterflies. Cardinals will also share mealworms, such as are sometimes offered for bluebirds. Add a hackberry tree, which grows those thin-skinned, big seed fruits and a stand of sunflowers and you will have a garden full of happy birds all summer long.
Colors That Attract Cardinals
While cardinals are not necessarily attracted to a specific color, bright colors often indicate ripe fruit. Reds might mimic the cock cardinal’s bright coat. Sunflowers are almost always fringed with cheerful yellow, although there are some red or orange varieties – and cardinals love sunflower seeds. Avoid white, however, as this sometimes signals danger.
Some Special Notes to Keep the Cardinals Safe
All birds love a nice bird bath, but so do mosquitos. Your first line of defense is to change the water in the bird bath regularly. It takes a week for wigglers (baby mosquitos) to grow, and you will probably want to change the water in the bird bath more often. If you have a large birdbath with an automatic feed, add an aerator. The larva will then be unable to grow. In winter, it is more practical to put out a fresh basin of water each day, since the water is likely to freeze.
Check with your local city regulations for plants before planning your bird garden. It is frightfully disappointing to have planned the perfect habitat, only to discover that you are in violation of some regulation or other and will have to cut or remove something.
Protect your feeder from squirrels, marauding cats, and other predators. A squirrel-proof bird feeder will help to keep unwanted guests from raiding their feeders.
Enjoy Your Feathered Neighbors
Too often in our busy modern world, we plan lovely things but then have no time to enjoy them. Place your bird feeding station where it can easily be seen from your patio or kitchen window. Take a minute or two to sip your morning tea or coffee from a location where you can watch your feathered friends.
There is nothing that can lift the heart quite like listening to cardinals greeting the morning sun or watching one of your bright red friends facing off a blue jay or starling. Their bright feathers and untrammeled behavior bring a bit of wilderness to the most civilized surroundings.