The Proven Best Bird Seed for Cardinals

If you’re starting to feed the birds, chances are you’re curious to know if you can draw in a Northern Cardinal. The bright red of a male cardinal is one of the most stunning sights you can see at a bird feeder. The females are also eye-catching with their shades of red and bright beak.

I started feeding birds from my apartment balcony several years ago with the goal of bringing in Northern Cardinals. They’re my favorite bird. It took me a few months, but I now have a pair of Cardinals regularly visiting my feeder during the spring and a handful of them throughout the winter when they’re less territorial.

So, what’s the best bird seed for Cardinals? Read on for the top choices.

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Before jumping in, make sure you also live in the range of Northern Cardinals. Sorry, western states.

A map of North America showing the range of Northern Cardinals, which extends from Northern Mexico throughout the Eastern United States.
A map of the range for Northern Cardinals – Cornell Bird Lab

Cardinals are found in woodland edges, the suburbs, swamps, city parks and even some deserts. You can also find them in Hawaii! They are non-migratory birds. So, if you draw in Cardinals to your yard, odds are good that they’ll continue to visit you year-round! Keep an eye out for them in the early morning or during sunset, as this is a popular time for them to feed.

While Cardinals are a common bird, you’ll want to be sure to put out the best foods to draw them to your bird feeder.

Section 1. The Best Bird Seed for Cardinals – Black Oil Sunflower Seed

Wagner’s Black Oil Sunflower Wild Bird Food, 25-Pound Bag

Wagner's Black Oil Sunflower Wild Bird Food, 25-Pound Bag
Wagners is a top choice for black oil sunflower seed.

If you read nothing else, know that black oil sunflower seed is the best thing you can buy to draw in Cardinals to your yard. Black oil sunflower seed is ideal for Cardinals and other birds due to its high protein and healthy oil content. Their thick bills are perfect for cracking open a sunflower seed with ease.

Along with the Wagner’s brand linked above. 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.

Meadow Ridge Farms Black Oil Sunflower Seed

Meadow Ridge Farms Black Oil Sunflower Seed

If you’re looking for a smaller and more-affordable black oil sunflower seed for Cardinals, Kaytee is a brand that I love for my bird feeding.

Kaytee Wild Bird Black Oil Sunflower Food, 5 Pound

Kaytee Wild Bird Food – Black Oil Sunflower

Want proof that black oil sunflower seed is great for Cardinals? Here’s a video of a female Northern Cardinal munching on some sunflowers on my apartment patio after a snowstorm. You can see her cracking into them with her beak at ease! I have a male and female who visit me all year to get sunflower seeds several times each day. It’s my favorite sight at my bird feeders.

Look at her go! I’m lucky enough to have a pair of Cardinals visiting me throughout the Minnesota winter.

You can also buy sunflower chips without the shell. It will cost you more, but it can be well worth it for not having a mess of shells to clean up on the ground. I gladly pay for this convenience.

Kaytee Sunflower Hearts and Chips Bird Seed, 8-Pound

Kaytee Sunflower Hearts and Chips Bird Seed, 8-Pound
Sunflower chips from Kaytee is what I often use to avoid making a mess at my apartment balcony.

An added bonus to putting out sunflower is that it will attract the widest variety of birds to your feeder compared to any other bird seed on the market. Here are just a few of the birds who enjoy chowing on sunflower. It’s quite the lineup!

  • Blue Jays
  • Chickadees
  • Finches
  • Goldfinches
  • Grosbeaks
  • Nuthatches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Sparrows

Related: How to Attract Minnesota Birds to Your Feeders

Another Great Bird Seed for Cardinals: Safflower Seed

Cardinals also enjoy safflower seed. If you ever buy a “cardinal blend” of birdseed, chances are that it contains mostly sunflower seeds with some safflower seed mixed in. You can find cardinal blends in any hardware/home improvement store or Costco.

Safflower has the bonus of being less appealing for bird feeder annoyances. It’s kind of a magic seed! Squirrels, European Starlings and House Sparrows all don’t like safflower and will usually leave it alone. It has a bitter taste and a hard shell for the pest birds to get into.

Wagner’s Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food, 5-Pound Bag

Wagner's Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food, 5-Pound Bag

Wagner’s Cardinal Blend Wild Bird Food, 6-Pound Bag

Wagner's Cardinal Blend Wild Bird Food, 6-Pound Bag
Another great cardinal bird seed option from Wagner’s.

Cardinals especially love golden safflower seed in my experience. Golden safflower has slightly higher oil, fat, and protein content compared to white-shelled safflower.

Other backyard birds that enjoy eating safflower seed are:

  • Chickadees
  • Doves
  • Finches
  • Grosbeaks
  • Titmice

Related: How to Start Bird Feeding in Just Five Steps

Other Foods Cardinals Enjoy Eating

Looking for more foods to put out for cardinals? Peanut bits, cracked corn, mealworms (especially live mealworms) and white millet are also appealing. My pair of cardinals eat from my peanut tray feeder often during the winter.

Peanuts Split Whole No Shell 8Lb

Peanuts are also a great choice if you want Blue Jays!

Once you’re stocked up on the right bird food for cardinals, you’re well on your way to bringing them to your yard!

Bird Seeds to AVOID

bird, red, cardinal-3979967.jpg

Avoid buying any bird seed that contain fillers, because you’re getting ripped off. A lot of cheap bags of bird seed are full of seeds that most birds (including Cardinals) won’t care much for or give them adequate nutrition. Look at the ingredients list of any potential bird seed and keep your eyes peeled for oats or red milo.

Cardinals will eat red milo, but it isn’t nearly as nutritious as other foods like sunflower seeds. Other birds will simply toss it off your feeder, leaving it to sprout on your yard. Do yourself and your red-bird friends a favor and buy a higher quality bag of black oil sunflower seed or safflower seed. They’ll be much more likely to come back regularly and have healthy lives with better supplemental food!

Section 2. The Best Bird Feeders for Cardinals

The most-effective way to feed Cardinals is on the ground. You can sprinkle your bird seed straight to the ground or make a small investment in a tray feeder.

Gray Bunny Ground Tray Feeder

Gray Bunny Ground Tray Feeder
This feeder is compact at just 7×7 inches, making it a great fit for an apartment patio, deck or anywhere in your yard!

The only drawback to this approach is that you’re also going to give squirrels and other ground critters easy access to your bird seed. If you want to avoid that, you should 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).

DutchCrafters Plastic Poly Modern Hanging Fly Through Bird Feeder 

DutchCrafters Plastic Poly Modern Hanging Fly Through Bird Feeder 
I love fly-through feeders like this one. 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.

Nature’s Way Bird Products Cedar Platform Tray Bird Feeder

Nature's Way Bird Products Cedar Platform Tray Bird Feeder
Tray feeders give ample space for birds of all sizes to perch and feed.

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 Legacy Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder

Squirrel Buster Legacy Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder
This feeder holds 2.6 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:

Droll Yankee squirrel-proof feeder
This weight sensitive feeder will literally spin squirrels off of it. Now that’s fun!

I hope the bird seed and feeder options above were helpful for you to draw in Cardinals to your yard. Leave a comment if any of these products worked well for you or if you have additional recommendations.

For more on types of bird feeders cardinals love and other tips to bring them in, I recommend you check out my comprehensive post on steps to draw this bird to your feeders.

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.