Attracting & Feeding Cardinals In The Winter – 8 Tips and 3 Things to Avoid

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The Northern Cardinal stands out as one of the most sought-after avian guests in backyards. Their striking feathers and melodious tunes make it unsurprising that people are eager to draw these charming Cardinals into their outdoor spaces.

Fortunately for bird enthusiasts, pleasing Cardinals doesn’t require excessive effort. By making a few uncomplicated adjustments to your backyard environment and birdfeeder arrangement, you can transform your yard into a welcoming sanctuary for these cherished feathered friends.


Northern Cardinals display non-migratory behavior, which implies that once you successfully entice them to your yard, they are likely to remain there throughout the year. However, this characteristic also means that if Cardinals are not naturally present in your area, your efforts to attract them will be in vain.

These vibrant birds can be spotted in the northern regions, reaching as far as Maine and parts of southern Canada. In the southern territories, their range extends from Central America to the Gulf Coast. Cardinals are indigenous to the western areas, encompassing South Dakota and Texas. Furthermore, aside from their original habitats, Cardinals have been introduced to Hawaii, southwestern California, and Bermuda.

Why We Love Cardinals

With their bright red feathers, cardinals are easy to spot, and even the females have touches of red on their brown feathers. Since they don’t fly away for the winter, they can stay in yards all year. Cardinals look pretty in winter trees because they keep their bright color. Both male and female cardinals sing different songs, which makes them even more interesting for bird lovers.

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feeding cardinals in the winter
Male cardinals (on the right) exhibit a vibrant red hue accentuated by a black border around their beak. In contrast, female cardinals (on the left) share a similar dark beak outline, but their overall plumage appears more subdued, featuring subtle hints of red along the edges of their wings and tail.

Witnessing a cardinal in mid-flight during the winter is a truly breathtaking sight. Whether it’s the intensely red plumage of a male or the soft, muted tones of a female cardinal, they create a striking contrast against the backdrop of winter’s barren natural canvas.

In contrast to numerous other avian species, cardinals choose not to embark on migratory journeys when the cold season descends. Instead, they remain steadfast, scouring for nourishment amidst the wintry landscape of wild berries, nuts, and seeds. Throughout this period, they seek refuge and protection within the boughs of evergreen trees, bushes, and even dense overgrown thickets.

Yet, the task of locating sustenance can pose challenges for cardinals, particularly as winter nears its end, when many of their customary food sources dwindle in availability.

Even amidst the chill of winter, cardinals have a requirement for water. In this instance, a male cardinal cautiously approaches a stream, seeking a refreshing sip while shielded by a cluster of thick vegetation.This is precisely the moment when offering them a consistent nourishing supply in an appropriate location can have a significant impact. It contributes not only to the well-being, safety, and protection of the cardinals but also ensures their frequent presence in your backyard!

How to Attract Cardinals

Bring These Bright Red Birds Right to Your Yard

Northern cardinal on a branch
                                                                                                The Spruce / jskbirds

Radiant throughout every time of the year and harmonizing their striking feathers with captivating melodies, northern cardinals rank among the most sought-after avian inhabitants of North American backyards. The good news is that individuals of all bird-watching backgrounds, whether newcomers or seasoned enthusiasts have the opportunity to draw cardinals into their midst by incorporating suitable feeders, bird baths, and nesting havens.

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How To Attract & Feed Cardinals

Selecting The Right Feeder

Before we discuss what cardinals like to eat and their favorite snacks, let’s first understand their eating habits. Cardinals tend to eat early in the morning and just before sunset, making them both early and late feeders.

Considering this, it’s crucial to ensure that feeders are well-stocked during these times. Additionally, remember that cardinals require water even during the winter months.

The fundamental principles of attracting birds apply to enticing cardinals as well. Yards and gardens that offer the right food, water, shelter, and nesting spots become preferred homes for these birds.

To encourage their return, you can place a shallow water dish near their feeder at mealtime. Even if it freezes, cardinals can use their robust beaks to chip away at the ice for a bit of moisture.

feeding cardinals in the winter

Cardinals have a preference for eating while facing their food. Keeping this in consideration, flat and shallow feeders are more suitable than the usual tube or house feeders. Additionally, you can scatter seeds beneath the feeder, as cardinals are quite content to search for food on the ground.

Cardinals Eating Habits

Cardinals are recognized as forward feeders, meaning they prefer their food placed in front of them, allowing some space to perch or sit. Due to this inclination, platform feeders are among the top choices for feeding cardinals, particularly during winter. Product Link: Platform Bird Feeder

This provides ample room for cardinals to perch and relish their meal, even when the ground beneath is blanketed in snow. Speaking of the ground, cardinals also relish feeding on the ground whenever possible. While refilling your feeder, remember to leave some seed underneath as well, ensuring additional feeding space.

Selecting The Right Location


cardinal bird feeder platform
Lastly, the placement of your feeder can significantly impact the safety of cardinals. Their conspicuous red plumage stands out prominently, especially against the stark white backdrop of winter, making them vulnerable to hungry hawks. Tray feeders such as this one from Going Green are ideal for enticing Cardinals and other forward-feeding birds.

They offer a stable platform for them to perch and relish their preferred treats. Positioning feeders beneath the shelter of trees or in proximity to bushes and shrubs will grant them natural safeguards against hawks. This approach also affords cover from potential threats like cats and other predators.


The cardinal’s strong beak is great for big seeds. They really like black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. Cardinals also enjoy cracked corn, peanut pieces, berries, apple chunks, and suet bits. Use large, wide feeders that have enough space for them to perch. Small tube feeders are not the best unless they have a big tray at the bottom. Platform and large hopper feeders are good, but avoid light-hanging feeders with narrow perches.


Cardinals frequently come to bird baths to bathe and drink. Since they are bigger songbirds, slightly deeper baths (around two to three inches deep at the deepest part) can work well. To catch the cardinals’ interest, consider incorporating a dripper or mister into the bath.

Given that these birds stay in colder regions throughout the year, heated bird baths are important for winter to provide water. Placing bird baths on the ground is also smart because many cardinals search for food on the ground and will pause at the bath for a quick drink.


Despite their vibrant feathers, cardinals favor inconspicuous, hidden spots for seeking refuge. Clusters of dense vines and shrubs create effective concealment, instilling a sense of safety and assurance in the birds.

Among their favored vegetation are sumac, mulberry, and blueberry plants, which also serve as natural food supplies. Craft cardinal-friendly landscaping with diverse layers, offering dense coverage at various heights, reaching up to 15-20 feet high. Incorporating evergreen trees and shrubs like pines and spruces is essential to ensure a cozy winter shelter.

Nesting sites:

Much like their preference for dense shelter, cardinals also seek out thick cover when selecting nesting spots. Optimal choices for nesting sites include grapevines, clematis, hawthorn, and dogwood plantings, alongside shrub thickets.

Encouraging the availability of nesting materials like small twigs, pine needles, and grass clippings can entice cardinals to construct nests in close proximity, although they do not utilize birdhouses. While nests aren’t reused, a cardinal pair might rear multiple broods annually. To foster this, offering several areas of dense cover for nesting can encourage the family to remain close each time.


Enhancing your yard’s allure isn’t the sole approach for luring cardinals to your space. You can also take measures to create a safer environment on your property, ensuring repeated visits from your cardinal companions.

1. Shiny surfaces. Cardinals have been observed attacking their own reflections as a way to defend their territory. While this behavior isn’t usually harmful, it can lead to beak injuries and undue stress. To prevent this, remove any reflective windows or mirrors close to nesting and feeding spots. Use screens or bird netting on windows to discourage them. When your car mirrors are not in use, consider covering them with non-transparent materials like plastic bags.

2. Harmful chemicals. Refrain from using chemicals and toxins near your bird feeders and birdbaths. Insecticides, herbicides, and certain fertilizers can pollute your sources of food and water, posing a potential threat to your cardinals.

3. Predator-accessible feeding areas. Initially, if you have outdoor pets, make an effort to prevent them from approaching areas where Cardinals feed. Furthermore, steer clear of positioning feeders or distributing seeds close to low shrubs, bushes, or any locations where predators might conceal themselves and pose a threat.

More Tips for Attracting Cardinals

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