How to Attract Cardinals to Your Yard: 5 Things You’ll Need

by Monika
How to attract cardinals to your garden

Do you want to attract charming Cardinals to your yard or garden? There are 5 crucial things you need to attract these stunning species. When those are fulfilled, the Cardinals will wait in line to visit your yard or garden! They will spend a lot of time in your yard and you’ll get to see these beautiful birds on a regular basis.

Cardinals are stationary birds that spend the whole year in the same place. If you manage to attract them to your yard, you’ll be able to enjoy their presence throughout the whole year.

Also, you don’t have to worry about Cardinals scaring the other songbirds that might visit your yard. Cardinals are not very aggressive and they will not bully the other birds.

How to attract Cardinals to your yard

If you want to attract Cardinals, you’ll need to provide a suitable habitat where they’ll have plenty of food, water, and a shelter.

But first, you need to make sure the Cardinals are native birds in your area. If you’ve already seen Cardinals around your home, then great – you can proceed to the next step. If you didn’t see them before in your area, here is where the Cardinals are native:

  • eastern and central North America
  • southern Canada
  • parts of Mexico and Central America
  • California, Hawaii, and Bermuda

You can see the exact map of where they live here.

Choose the food Cardinals love

Cardinals favorite seeds and food

If your bird feeder is filled with seeds and other foods that Cardinals love all year round, they will likely make your yard their new home. Cardinals prefer to eat early in the morning and late in the evening so make sure that the feeder is filled during that time.

Cardinals have a large jaw which makes it easy for them to enjoy bigger seeds. Some of their favorite seeds are:

  • safflower seeds
  • black oil sunflower seeds
  • white milo

You can also buy a blend of seeds that Cardinals love. For example, Wagner’s blend for cardinals works great in attracting these birds.

Other foods Cardinals love:

  • cracked corn
  • peanut pieces
  • dry pumpkin seeds
  • berries such as dogwood, hackberry, northern bayberry and serviceberry
  • apple chunks
  • small chunks of suet

Suet is a great choice for fall and winter when the birds need more calories. It will give them the needed energy boost and help them maintain their body heat.

Want to know more about the kinds of food these birds love? See our detailed Cardinal bird food guide.

Choose the right bird feeder

The best feeder to attract cardinals

On the photo: No/No Squirrel Proof Cardinal Bird Feeder – check current price on Amazon

Bird feeders are one of the most important things you need in your garden to attract Cardinals. These birds are heavier than most birds that usually feed on bird feeders so regular lightweight feeders hanging in the air are not the best types of feeder for these charming birds.

Unlike some other types of birds, Cardinals can’t change their direction quickly. That’s why they need a feeder that makes it easy for them to land.

It is best to use:

  • open platform feeders
  • large hopper feeders
  • feeders that have built-in trays that can easily hold not-so-small cardinal birds while they feed and where they’ll have no problem landing

Take a look at my list of the best bird feeders for Cardinals. These two are my favorite:

Cardinals are shy birds and they want to be protected while they feed. Placing the feeder near trees or shrubs is the best way to attract them to the feeder. This way the Cardinals will feel safer and feel they have a hiding place in case of the threat.

Since Cardinals are ground feeders, you shouldn’t put the feeder too high in the air. About 5-6 feet or so above the ground is the best as their natural eating area is low.

If there aren’t any squirrels or cats in your area, you can scatter some bird food on the ground to entice the shyest birds.

You can also make your own DIY bird feeder.

Have a water supply in your yard

Birdbath for cardinals

Cardinals like to use birdbaths to drink and bathe so having one in your yard will work wonders in attracting these birds. Birdbaths for Cardinals have to be a bit deeper to suit these larger birds. Make sure your bird bath is 2-3 inches deep at the deepest point so that Cardinals can fit inside perfectly.

During the winter, when the snow falls and the water turns to ice, you can help Cardinals preserve energy they would spend melting the snow to drink by using a heated bird bath such as this one from Songbird Essentials.

  • Heated bird baths have a built-in heater that will keep the water liquid during cold winter days.
  • Another option is having an immersion heater that you can submerge in the water to keep a portion of the water liquid.

Heated bird baths are more efficient in keeping water liquid than the immersion heaters, but both will do its job during the coldest days.

Keep in mind that you need to regularly replace the water in the birdbath when it gets stagnant and dirty. Depending on where the bath is placed and how many birds are using it, you’ll probably need to clean the bath and replace the water a few times a week.

Shelter that will keep Cardinals safe and protected

Shelter for cardinal birds

As I already mentioned, Cardinals prefer a secluded area where they feel safe and protected. Cardinals are cautious birds so they will first land in the bushes to check for predators before they decide to visit the bird feeder.

Areas surrounded by dense vines, trees and bushes will make a great cover for Cardinals so they can feel safe while they check for predators. During long winter days, evergreen trees and shrubs such as pines will provide a great shelter for these birds.

Cover plants the Cardinals love:

  • eastern red cedar
  • hawthorn
  • nannyberry
  • rose
  • wild grape
  • pines
  • spruce
  • arborvitae
  • juniper

Have nesting materials nearby

Cardinal bird nesting materials

Cardinals don’t use birdhouses or nesting boxes, but they will instead use thick plants to build their nesting site.

They will use plants such as:

  • grapevines
  • clematis
  • hawthorn
  • dogwood
  • tall trees
  • shrub thickets
  • twigs
  • pine needles
  • grass clippings.

Cardinals nest at least twice every summer so you’ll get to enjoy the family of red birds often. These birds don’t reuse their nesting sites but having the nesting materials near your yard or garden will encourage the family of Cardinals to raise broods in a shrub nearby.

Once the Cardinals get used to having everything they need in your backyard, you can expect to see them a lot because they will stick around.

More reading:

What to avoid if you want to attract Cardinals

Avoid using reflecting surfaces in your yard – Cardinals will try to attack their own reflection in windows, glass or other reflecting materials and this might scare them away.

Keep your pets away from the bird feeder, birdbath and other places where Cardinals love to spend their time. Seeing your pets, or predators from their point of view will scare away the birds.

Do Cardinals visit your yard?

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Cathy January 7, 2018 - 2:12 pm

Not exactly sure if I have the cirrect food fir them

Monika January 8, 2018 - 6:49 am

Food for cardinals is easy to find in stores so you shouldn’t have a problem getting it 🙂

sam February 16, 2018 - 4:53 pm

I have cardinals in my yard and don’t provide food or water for them. They love my weeping cherry tree.

Monika February 16, 2018 - 5:03 pm

Then you are one lucky person 🙂

Lorrie February 24, 2018 - 2:18 am

We have two pair here. So far so good. They come morning and night. I put fresh feed out twice a day for them, and there are several feeders full all the time. Nesting….do I need to leave anything special to help them near?

Monika February 26, 2018 - 1:20 pm

Not much you can do when it comes to nesting. You can start growing those plants that they like to use as a nesting material, but this obviously takes time 🙂

Jody Arnold May 2, 2018 - 7:51 pm

How can you stop a cardinal from flying into the patio door? He does it for several hours.

Monika May 3, 2018 - 9:06 am

That’s weird. Is there a glass on the door? If yes, they might see their reflection and think it is another bird so they are trying to approach it. Maybe you can try putting some kind of cover? Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

Melissa December 13, 2018 - 1:31 am

My resident Cardinal does this every day and many times a day and thru all the seasons! At first I was worried about him hurting himself but honestly He seems to be very happy! I think perhaps they enjoy it! It seems unlikely that there would be a reflection in every window of my house because he knocks on all of them.

Monika December 13, 2018 - 11:00 am

Lol, I guess Cardinals can be pretty weird sometimes. But as long as he doesn’t hurt himself, all is well!

Cori December 24, 2019 - 5:51 pm

Here you go this sums it up nicely! Many options for your poor bird. I dont think he is doing it for kicks, your lucky he’s still alive. 🙂

Stella April 24, 2019 - 5:46 pm

I have two nesting pairs whom have eggs. They drove me crazy for a month with the windows taping. Live in the mountains a bit remote. They steal food from my chickens and guineas!

Monika April 26, 2019 - 4:32 pm

Sounds like you need a post on how to repel Cardinals lol 🙂 Maybe if you put bird seed out for the Cardinals, they’ll leave your chickens’ and guineas’ food alone.

Vanessa May 4, 2020 - 6:38 pm

I didn’t have a bird feeder or water and I saw a nest in the shrub right outside my front door! I went to buy food immediately to give the parents easy access to food. The babies just flew from the nest two days ago. I loved watching them grow.

Monika May 5, 2020 - 10:29 am

Aww. It’s so great seeing the chicks grow!

Liz January 8, 2021 - 6:28 pm

I have a yard full of cardinals. I feed them sunflower seeds, cracked corn and always have plenty of water for them.

yoda July 8, 2021 - 9:08 am

Some birds are deterred from flying into windows by the placement of a picture or silhouette of a hawk displayed on the window.


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