5 Proven Ways to Attract Cardinals to a Feeder

My top goal was to attract a Cardinal when I started my bird feeding hobby. Cardinals are stunning birds and hold a special place in my heart. When my grandpa passed, I was often lucky to see a bright Cardinal in my backyard that reminded me of him. They’ve been special to me ever since.

I think the Cornell Bird Lab puts it best: “The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a perfect combination of familiarity, conspicuousness, and style: a shade of red you can’t take your eyes off.”

The range of the Northern Cardinal – Cornell Bird Lab

Cardinals are common at feeders in their range. They are found in woodland edges, the suburbs, swamps, city parks and even some deserts. While they are a common bird, there are a few things you can do to have a high chance of drawing in these awe-inspiring birds to your yard.

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CARDINAL FACT: Cardinals are the state bird of seven states – Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia.

1. The Best Bird Seed for Cardinals

The best bird seed for Cardinals is black oil sunflower seed. This is my top pick from personal experience, which is also backed by the Cornell Bird Lab and Audubon. Cardinals have thick bills that they use to pry open seeds. Perfect for sunflowers! An added bonus: Sunflower seeds will attract the largest variety of birds to your yard compared to anything else. It’s also a cheap bird seed to buy. Here’s a list of other common feeder birds that love sunflower seed:

  • Blue Jays
  • Chickadees
  • Finches
  • Grosbeaks
  • Magpies
  • Nuthatches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
  • Redpolls
  • Titmice
  • Sparrows

Want proof? Here’s a video of a female Northern Cardinal eating sunflower seeds from my apartment balcony in the winter!

This is one of my favorite sights in the winter!

My top Amazon bird seed choice for Cardinals is Meadow Ridge Farms Black Oil Sunflower seed. I buy the 40-pound bag and it lasts me months. It’s popular with a ton of my feeder birds and comes with no filler seeds or sticks. I’m also biased because it’s locally sourced from Minnesota, my home state!

Meadow Ridge Farms Black Oil Sunflower Bird Seed

Related: Read My Ultimate Bird Seed and Bird Food Guide

Cardinals also enjoy safflower seed, a great alternative if you’re having issues with squirrels. Safflower has a bitter taste and squirrels tend to leave it alone. It also has a thick shell, making it hard for annoying birds like House Sparrows, Starlings and Grackles to get into. It’s a little pricey, but I’ve seen Cardinals go especially bananas for golden safflower seed, which has slightly higher oil, fat, and protein content compared to white-shelled safflower.

Cole’s Safflower Seed

You can buy a Cardinal birdseed blend that offers an 80/20 mix of sunflower and safflower seeds too. This Wagner’s Cardinal blend was the first I ever bought and I’ve had a lot of luck with it (a ton of other birds also love it!)

Click here to purchase Wagner’s Cardinals Blend

RELATED: Check out this comprehensive guide to attract a variety of Minnesota birds to your feeders

An economical option for birdseed is at Costco. This 30-pound bag of Cardinal and Songbird Blend is typically around $22-$25 (I’ve seen it on sale at $15 too). That’s the best value I’ve seen! I almost always have a bag of it on hand. It’s also become very popular for my Chickadee and House Finch guests.

Costco Cardinals and Songbirds 30 Pound Bag of Birdseed
A 30 pound bag of Cardinal bird seed from Costco is one of the best deal I’ve seen. Keep an eye out and stock up whenever it’s on sale.

Cardinals also enjoy eating peanut bits, suet (on occasion), cracked corn, and millet. I recommend adding suet and peanuts to your feeding station simply to increase your chances of Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, and other birds. Variety is the spice of life!

Related: The Definitive Bird Seed Power Rankings

2. Put Seed on the Ground for Cardinals

Want to know a secret? You don’t even need a bird feeder for Cardinals. They’re naturally inclined to eat seed straight from the ground.

If you’re looking for a neater option, a simple ground feeder (like the one linked below) is an easy (and cheap) option for Cardinals and other birds.

Kaytee Ground Bird Feeder Tray

Cardinals love to eat seed from the ground. A tray feeder can make this less messy.

However, there’s a significant downside to this approach. Putting seed on the ground is almost certain to attract squirrels, mice, chipmunks, and all sorts of critters. If you live in a rural area with a lot of space, this probably isn’t a big concern for you. However, for city/suburban bird feeders, you may want to try a different approach…

3. The Best Bird Feeders for Cardinals

Want to avoid the mess (and critters) that comes with having a ground feeder? Get a feeder that you can hang or elevate that Cardinals will enjoy!

The key thing to remember is that cardinals are large song birds (7 to 9 inches long) and will need something big enough to support them. My first recommendation for a Cardinal bird feeder would be to set up a fly-through tray feeder on a sturdy post (if you have space for it).

JCs Wildlife Medium Poly Fly-Thru Bird Feeder 

I love fly-through feeders like this one. You’ll want to mount it on a post, but it will provide a sturdy way to feed larger birds like Cardinals, Jays and Doves.

If you’re looking for something simple and more space-conscious, a hanging platform feeder is also a good choice.

A squirrel-proof feeder can also be a game changer if you’re dealing with critters eating up all of your bird seed. I’m currently using this squirrel-buster bird feeder that I’ve had a lot of success so far. It’s been a completely squirrel-proof bird feeder for me!

Squirrel Buster Standard Squirrel-proof Bird Feeder w/4 Metal Perches

Currently $50 and holds 1.3 pounds of bird seed.

If it’s in your price range (and if you’re looking for more entertainment…) you can also buy a feeder big enough for Cardinals that will literally spin when squirrels try to eat from it. I’ve heard great things about investing in a Droll Yankee squirrel-proof feeder:

Related: 5 Tips to Attract Chickadees to Your Bird Feeder

4. How to Attract Cardinals – Offer a Bird Bath or Water Source

This is a universal tip for attracting more birds to your yard and Cardinals are no exception.

Cardinals don’t migrate. So, if you live in an area with harsh winters like I do, a heated bird bath is especially welcome by Cardinals when it’s cold out and open water is hard to come by.

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A bird bath is a sure way to get more birds to your yard in general!

If you’re in the market for a bird bath, here’s a well-reviewed and affordable option from Amazon. In the winter, you can also add in a bird bath heater to keep the ice away.

This bird bath is 28 inches high and is easy to install

5. Place Your Feeder Near a Tree or Brush

Cardinals are skittish birds and will want to scout out any feeder. Birds in general want to feel safe and protected when they eat. Avoid putting your feeder in a wide-open space where cardinals will be exposed to potential predators. Cardinals especially love evergreen trees, which give them a lot of options for shelter.

Aim to put your feeder near trees or brushes. At the same time, try to strike a balance so that squirrels can’t easily jump to your feeding station (this is less of a concern if you buy a squirrel-proof feeder). Squirrels can jump roughly 10 feet with ease!

To recap, if you’re new to bird feeding and want some cardinals, I would:

  • Buy black-oil sunflower seed
  • Put it on the ground or in a squirrel-proof hanging feeder (near trees or shrubs)
  • Add a water feature near your feeding station
  • Extra credit: Also offer safflower seed, peanuts, and suet

Related: How to get Baltimore Orioles Visiting Your Bird Feeder

Bonus Tips to Attract Cardinals

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Cardinal couples are always fun visitors. I have a pair that visit throughout the winter and spring. They’re always my favorites!

Want to further your chances at regularly getting Cardinals in your yard? Here are some tips I found from other blogs and experts.

Encourage nesting sites: The PerkyPet bird feeder website recommends having dense native plants or shrubs in your yard to encourage Cardinal nesting. They won’t use nesting boxes or bird houses.

Avoid using fertilizers and chemicals on your yard whenever possible. This is a universal tip from Cornell to bring more birds to your yard and feeders.

“The continent’s most widely used insecticides, called neonicotinoids or “neonics,” are lethal to birds and to the insects that birds consume. Common weed killers used around homes, such as 2, 4-D and glyphosate (used in Roundup), can be toxic to wildlife, and glyphosate has been declared a probable human carcinogen”

Plant flowers Cardinals enjoy. I love this tip that I found on the Birdwatching Tips blog. You can plant sunflowers to give Cardinals another food option. Planting native flowers will also draw in more insects to your yard, which they also enjoy eating!

Leave any questions and comments you have below. Please consider sharing this story or telling a friend about it if it helped you. It means a lot to me!

Related: How to Attract Hummingbirds to a Feeder in Just Three Steps

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18 Comments

  1. Great Blog Dan!!! I love Cardinals as well….with Rose Breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings being in my top three!

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