Feeding Cardinals

In the Wild

Cardinals eat a wide variety of seeds and fruits, so they visit lots of different kinds of plants. They get fresh water from streams, ponds and puddles. Around your yard, cardinals feed on the ground, in low shrubs and in some trees. Mostly you will see them in shrubs and thickets less than 15 feet from the ground or on the ground under seed-bearing plants.

Plants in the northeastern section of their range that they visit are:

Cardinal Chow In The Northeast
Field cornOatsSumac

In the southeast part of their range, cardinals visit:
Cardinal Chow In Southeast
CornPlantainsWild cherry

In the southern prairies they are attracted to:
Cardinal Chow in Midwest

At the Feeder

Because they are large birds, cardinals mostly prefer to eat from the ground. When they visit feeders, they need some sort of perch. Those are irresistibly lured to feeders filled with sunflower seeds. They enjoy both the black oil and striped versions. They also love safflower seed, which few other birds enjoy, so it can be used in a “cardinals only” feeder. Cardinals eat cracked corn, white millet, peanuts, melon and squash seeds, nutmeats, raisins, white bread, cornbread and apples. However, sunflower seed alone is a surefire cardinal attraction. In the winter they also enjoy suet blocks with sunflower seeds imbedded in them.
Do not forget that all birds need a source of fresh water. Cardinals will visit birdbaths for drinking water all year round. In the North is it difficult in the winter, sometimes, for them to find water because ponds and puddles freeze over. Locate birdbaths in the sun or use an electric heater to melt the ice that forms on the surface. Run a waterfall or fountain in the water garden to prevent it from freezing in all but the most severe weather.

For examples of feeders and food for cardinals go to Yardener's Tool Shed in the Attracting Wildlife section.

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