How To Attract Cardinals To Bird Feeders

March 17, 2021 // 8 minutes read // 1 Shares

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Cardinal in backyard on blueberry bush

When I first got into bird watching, I set up a few feeders and expected cardinals to just show up. I mean, how hard could it be, right? Buy a feeder, check. Buy some seed, check. I thought it was going to be easy. Then I realized, I needed to learn how to attract cardinals to a bird feeder.

Well, it wasn’t.

I was disappointed. While I got a few birds to visit, I didn’t get any Northern cardinal. They are my favorites but I was discouraged that none came to feed.


what was I doing wrong?  

Turns out, quite a bit.

I’ve done extensive research to find out just what makes these beautiful redbirds tick and what makes them show up at some feeders all day long and ignore other ones. There are many techniques and tricks to the trade to get them to perch on your feeder, giving you the show you deserve without the price of admission. 

So, how is it done? 

Is it magic? 

Is it just luck? 

It’s none of those things. It’s science.

Read on to find out:

  • What is the best type of feeder
  • What is the best kind of food
  • How to make them safe from predators
  • Placing a nesting tray
  • How to attract cardinals FAQs

Read on to learn more about how to attract cardinals to bird feeder…

What Are the Best Type of Feeders for Cardinals?

Believe it or not, there is a science behind both the bird feeder design and the type of seed placed in it. Every species of bird have their preferences, their likes, and dislikes. And if you hope to attract the kind of birds you want at your feeder then you better pay attention.

While some birds like to be out in the wide-open spaces on an open-air feeder, other species are terrified of it. They feel they are vulnerable to an attack from any number of predators out there. 

So, what type of feeder is most attractive to a cardinal?

Feeder Design

It is best to avoid tube feeders because cardinals have a hard time using them. They also like to be stationary while feeding so don’t buy a swinging feeder because they won’t be comfortable using it. 

Feeders that are enclosed will also be a tough sell for cardinals. Something with a firm perch like a platform or a heavy bar would suit the cardinals just fine.

Even though they like to build their nests away from predators, seeking out dense bushes or leafy trees, they do not like feeling enclosed. It is one reason why they refused to build their nests in birdhouses. They like to be in the open so they can see around them at all angles. Look for feeders that offer panoramic views for you because they will also offer the same view for cardinals and they can identify predators if they approach. 

Cardinal friendly features:

  1. Feeders with 360 viewing so cardinals fee safe
  2. Platform feeders with no roof cover so they easily see
  3. Squirrel busting tech so they can feed in peace

Check out our article titled, “Top 10 Best Cardinal Bird Feeders For Your Backyard” for more information on the best cardinal bird feeders.

Feeder Placement

Cardinals enjoy honeysuckle hedges, sumac, dogwood, and hackberry to nest in. If you have any of those types of plants in your yard you should place the feeder nearby. They’ll feel safe if they have to leave the feeder, knowing they have thick plant growth to hide in.

Keep in mind too that while cardinals typically nest twice a year, building a new nest for each of their broods, they tend to stay within a square mile of where they were born. If they find a satisfactory food supply with your feeder and a safe place to nest and raise their babies, then you’ll reap the benefits.

Also, have your feeder mounted between 3 and 15 feet off the ground. This lets them feel safe from ground predators such as cats and squirrels.

What is the Best Type of Food for Cardinals?

Well, you’re in luck there. Cardinals are not picky eaters. They eat a wider variety of foods than most any other birds. In nature, the adult cardinal will typically eat a diet of 70% greens, fruits, seeds, and different kinds of grains. The other 30% is made up of insects. When cardinals are babies they prefer alfalfa sprouts and greens. They like to drink water from puddles, streams, and lakes. They also can get water from eating insects, fruits, and greens.

Types of Seed

The seeds give them iron, fat, B vitamins, protein, calcium, and fiber. It gives them the energy they need to keep going all day long.

Seeds they enjoy:

  • Boxelder seeds
  • Ragweed
  • Squash seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Weed seed
Cardinal in backyard on blueberry bush
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Image by Briam Cute from Pixabay


They also enjoy wild fruits as well as the fruits you and I both like to eat. I enjoy putting out slices of different fruits for them to give them a variation to the seeds I put out. You can put out fresh slices or place out dried fruits as well. Cardinals love them both. When looking for the types of fruits they like, cardinals enjoy a wide variety so change it up from time to time to keep them interested.

The fruits they like:

  • Crabapples
  • Elderberries
  • Mulberries
  • Raspberries
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices
  • Cherries
  • Blackberries

Other Foods

Other types of food they like include oats and millet which include the red, yellow, white, or grey seeds you may have noticed in birdseed mixes. Apart from that, cardinals also enjoy eating bread crumbs, maple sap from holes in trees, and cracked corn. As I’ve said before, cardinals basically will eat anything you set out for them.

Other types of food:

  1. Oats
  2. Millet
  3. Maple sap
  4. Bread crumbs
  5. Suet

Suet is another type of food that many bird enthusiasts agree will attract cardinals. It is a high-calorie food rich in nutrients and comes from the kidney fat of a cow or sheep. Suet can be bought in rolls or free seeds and can be vital to help cardinals through the winter months. I want to point out that a store-bought suet ball will come with sunflower seeds, peanut bits, organic peanut butter, and sunflower seeds.

The best food to place in feeders is a pre-mixed seed which includes safflower seeds, apple bits, plums, peanut pieces, berries, and black oil sunflower seeds. These are great solutions when you lack the time to make your own mixes to place in the feeders.


It is important to keep in mind that cardinals and their nests are hunted by a variety of predators. For them to think about coming to your feeder, they’ll need to feel safe.

You might wonder who would ever think of hurting those beautiful redbirds feeding on your feeder. Surprisingly, there are a lot of different predators looking to get a taste of those cardinals. Turns out there are mammals, other birds, and even snakes who prey upon those beautiful birds. 

It is no wonder they seek cover when building their nests in dense shrubs, bushes, or leafy trees. They also nest twice a year producing two broods. The sad thing is this is necessary to keep the population of cardinals growing because they are preyed upon so fiercely. Surprisingly, there is only a 15% success rate of their offspring becoming fledglings. That’s because so many predators eat their eggs. 

Dangerous predators to watch for:

  1. House cats
  2. Foxes
  3. Dogs
  4. Snakes
  5. Owls
  6. Hawks

Snakes, rodents, and Blue jay most frequently attack the nest to eat the eggs and destroy the brood. It is one reason why cardinals are so territorial once the females build the nest and lay the eggs. Males guard them fiercely. 

How Can I Attract Cardinals To My Birdfeeders FAQs

Why Are There So Many Empty Nests Nearby?

While cardinals nest two times every year to bring two broods into the world, they do not reuse the same bird nest. This is one of their defense mechanisms. When predators see multiple nests they become discouraged because they think there are multiple cardinal families around. Don’t remove the old nests as they help keep the cardinals safe.

Will A Nesting Platform Help?

Yes, because cardinals don’t like to travel far from home, having a nesting platform close to where you have some cardinal-friendly feeders will all but guarantee you’ll have cardinals visiting regularly. 

In Conclusion

Well, there you have it.  Some sure-fire ways of how to attract cardinals to bird feeders and getting cardinals to come to your yard. They’ll keep you company year-round, even during the winter months. Make sure to keep them happy and they’ll give you lots of viewing pleasure.

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