Cardinals: Attract Them to Your Yard


Did you know that cardinals are predominantly monogamous? They mate for life until one is left alone upon the demise of the other. Only then do they seek another partner, typically in the non-breeding season. Sources say their typically tight bonds can be a bit looser in the winter months though.

What do They Eat?

As omnivores, cardinals may eat both plants and animals, including insects, seeds (sunflower and safflower are favourites) nuts, grains, fruit, and flower buds on plants and trees. Their strong beaks even permit them to enjoy shelled peanuts and corn.

When insects are scarce in the winter months, they supplement their protein with suet in feeders. You will often see them foraging for meals on the ground and the feeders they do frequent must have sturdy perches or trays so they can eat while facing forward.

Apparently, it is the carotenoids in their food that give cardinals their beautiful, characteristic red colouring. These carotenoids are sourced from bacteria, plants and fungi that cardinals consume. While the males are almost all red, including their beaks, females have orange beaks with light brown feathers, and can vary in the extent of the red patches on their chests.

These gorgeous red birds get their name from the fact that their feathers are similar in colour to the robes worn by Roman Catholic high officials…Cardinals.

Cardinals Stay Put in Winter

Considered non-migratory, cardinals stay put in winter, typically living their whole life within one mile of where they were born. They hang out in dense evergreen shrubs and tangled vines.

Help them out by leaving your garden cleanup to spring so they have twigs, leaves and such to forage for and hide in all year round.

Timid yet Territorial

Another fact is that cardinals are much more timid, shy and less aggressive than many other birds. Sudden movements will startle them. The yards and feeders they do grace with their beauty offer nearby protection and privacy in the form of evergreen shrubs, vines or trees. That way they can scope out the food sources and retreat quickly to protective coverage as needed.

Usually non-aggressive, they can be very aggressive when defending their territory. This is especially common during mating season when hormones are raging. Fights with intruders in their territory can last for days. They become so aggressive in fact that they often attack their own reflections seen in anything shiny such as mirrors and windows, even gazing balls.

Attract Them to Your Yard

To attract them to your yard, and ensure they stick around:

  • keep your feeders and water baths clean and full. Use mild dish soap or a 1:9 solution of bleach and hot water to clean both often. Dry the feeder well before filling.
  • keep their food and water feeders away from your outdoor pets and spots they may ambush the birds from
  • provide a water supply and don’t let it freeze in winter. Depending on where you live, this may simply be achieved by refreshing still water to avoid freezing. In my area however, it means using a heated birdbath or a submersible water heater to prevent freezing.
  • provide nesting shelves for them to cozy up in. Cardinals have several sets of offspring per year but don’t usually reuse any nests. This means they need lots of nesting material. Consider supplying them with lightweight materials like string or yarn, hair, dog fur, or unscented dryer lint to line the nests within the shrubs and vines they choose to build in.
  • provide a safe haven with lots of greenery in the form of ground cover, perennial flowers, small and large shrubs and trees.

My Experience with Cardinals

My husband and I love to watch the birds that visit our backyard. It would definitely be considered a safe haven for cardinals for the reasons above, especially the abundance of greenery within my gardens.

We have been speculating whether it is the same couple that has been visiting us for years. In researching information for this post, I think they are the same male and female pairing. They certainly repeat the same habits, moving from feeders to our trees, vines, shrubs, and ground cover throughout the day.

We have even witnessed a “fight” between two males that chased each other back and forth across the expanse of our yard numerous times.

Today I watched the male protectively watching the female at a feeder, then feed himself while she watched from nearby. Then in a blur (too fast for my cell phone camera) he flew away and she followed: