What Do Cardinals Like To Eat

Cardinals are among the most remarkable birds that visit North American gardens due to their beautiful red plumage. You must create an inviting atmosphere in your yard to draw them there, which calls for a lot of food. What then do cardinals consume?

We’re going to find out about it! We’ll also discuss some amazing information about these lovely birds.

Cardinal Habits And Biology

Cardinalis cardinalis is the Latin name for the bird we commonly refer to as the cardinal, which is actually the Northern cardinal.

Around the world, there are around 120 million of them. They can be found as far south as Mexico and Central America and as far north as southern Canada. However, the USA is home to more than 75 percent of the world’s population.

Since they don’t migrate, if you’re fortunate enough to draw them to your garden, they will stay there all year. They’ll cheer you up there with their flamboyant feathers and upbeat singing. In this YouTube video from the American Bird Conservancy, you can hear them singing.

Cardinals used to occasionally be kept in cages as pets. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 put a stop to this regrettable circumstance. As a result, it was illegal to possess, damage, or kill a cardinal.

Historically, shrublands, swamps, and wooded areas were where you might find them. However, garden feeders have been a wonderful ally to the species, and over the 20th century, their population steadily increased.

Over the winter, they often remain in one place. The cardinal’s female builder will select a location amid dense greenery to construct her nest. Nests may be built up to 15 feet from the ground, and evergreens are the ideal places.

Eggs are typically deposited three or four at a time in the spring and again in the summer. Since the hatchlings first eat up to eight times each hour, feeding them is a full-time job. After around five days, it drops to three to four times an hour.

The parents are able to exhale in relief after around six to seven weeks. Now that they can fly, the fledglings can fend for themselves.

Are cardinals omnivores?

All cardinal species are omnivorous even if some prefer plant meals and others prefer insects.

Although the diets of cardinals vary greatly and are very selective, they can typically eat most items and won’t hesitate to stray from their regular feeding routines if necessary.

Where Do Cardinals Nest?

Three to four whitish-gray eggs with brown specks are laid by female cardinals in a nest of twigs and grasses concealed in a thick tree or bush. Concealment is essential for cardinal nests since the flamboyant birds search for the cover provided by thick bushes and trees.

Their nests are small, barely 4 to 8 feet from the ground, as compared to those of other birds. During mating season, northern cardinals are very territorial, and the father bird stays close to the nest.

Have a nesting pair in your yard if you want to watch cardinals there all year. Cardinals frequently select the safety of evergreens for the protection of their initial nests in April or May.

Planting a variety of tiny, thick trees and bushes is good since pairs raise numerous broods a year and choose various places. Try box elder, eastern red cedar, nannyberry, and shrub roses as some cover trees and plants. Because cardinals utilize the bark of wild grapevine as a nesting material, it is a useful addition as well.

What do cardinals eat in the wild?

Cardinals often eat a broad variety of omnivorous foods such small fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts as well as lots of tiny insects, arthropods, and invertebrates, but it isn’t the full story.

Within the family Cardinalidae, the cardinal is both a genus and a family member (Cardinalis). Three cardinal species, including the well-known Northern cardinal, belong to the genus Cardinalis. The Red Angry Bird from the Angry Birds video game franchise is the most well-known Northern cardinal.

In the last 20 years or so, several additional species of birds, including tanagers, seedeaters, and grosbeaks, have had their taxonomic categories moved about, reorganized, and otherwise altered significantly.

As you would have guessed, the seedeaters do indeed eat a diet high in seeds, and their small, powerful beaks are designed specifically for this. Although ants don’t normally make up the majority of their food, ants are one of the insects that ant tanagers hunt for on the ground.

The Northern cardinal’s diet is nearly entirely made up of these things, and the cardinals generally eat a lot of fruit and seeds from plants. Chats mostly eat insects. The preferences of grosbeaks vary; some prefer insects, while others choose seeds and fruit.

As many cardinals rely more on fruits and seeds in the non-breeding season before bingeing on insects in the breeding season, their feeding habits also differ between the breeding and non-breeding seasons.

It is easy to understand why the chat and seedeater have quite different eating habits when you contrast their thin, pointed beaks with one another.

Overall, the majority of the cardinal species eat a variety of foods, such as insects and berries, nuts, and seeds.

What do you feed wild cardinals?

Although it depends on the particular type of cardinal, especially if we’re talking about the complete cardinal family, which has 53 species, almost all cardinals like to consume seeds.

Sunflower and safflower seeds, cracked corn, red and golden millet, peanuts, and flax are typical foods that cardinals prefer. These are all fantastic alternatives that will provide these magnificent birds tremendous nourishment.

Mealworms are a solid bet because several species of cardinals consume insects as well. The majority of cardinal species eat fruits like apples and grapes all year round.

Do cardinals eat worms?

Due to their abundance in protein and lipids, tiny and medium-sized birds frequently consume worms. Cardinals do consume worms, however certain species, such as the Northern cardinal, do it less frequently than others.

The Dickcissel is another species of cardinal that almost exclusively consumes seeds and other plant items, seldom eating invertebrates like worms.

Some tanagers, like the Scarlet tanager and the majority of ant tanagers, feed mostly on insects and other invertebrates, including worms.

The Best Ways to Attract Cardinals

Knowing what cardinals eat and where they nest will help you draw in redbirds. Food and serving methods are not important to cardinals. They frequently come into the backyard. Put black oil sunflower seeds in a cardinal bird feeder for a certain technique to draw cardinals.

However, ambitious gardeners shouldn’t stop there because the correct plants can attract other songbirds in addition to these ruby-red beauties.

According to Gary Ritchison, an ornithologist at Eastern Kentucky University and author of the Wild Bird Guide: Northern Cardinal, the key is to concentrate on providing food, cover, and locations for cardinals to mate and rear young. A thorough examination of these birds’ lives reveals hints that can be used to draw in cardinals.

Do cardinals need special feeders?

Cardinals will eat from almost any typical bird feeder, but several different birds can feed at once by strewing seeds and other foods on the ground, stuffing them into a feeder, or dispersing them around a bird table.

You don’t want cardinals to completely eliminate other bird species from your yard since several cardinal species may be violent when feeding.

Plant Evergreens to Attract Cardinals

Despite foraging on open terrain, Northern cardinals require a spot where they may rapidly flee to safety. Cardinals employ the same thick bushes that serve as nesting places in the summer, but in the winter, they seek refuge in evergreen trees.

Cardinals gather in flocks throughout the winter and wander about in quest of food. The best chance of seeing scarlet cardinals dotting a snow-covered evergreen is in yards that provide a plenty of food and cover. Try juniper, spruce, and arborvitae.

What Seeds Do Cardinals Eat?

Sunflower or safflower seed feeders are a certain technique to keep cardinals content. The northern cardinal’s bill is shaped and built in a way that reflects its preferred diet. They may crush or split open seeds thanks to the downward curvature that is typical of seed-eating birds.

Cardinals can consume larger seeds because they have stronger jaw muscles than many other songbirds. Choose plants with medium-sized seeds and a variety of seasons when trying to attract cardinals. Try Purple Majesty millet, nasturtium, purple coneflower, safflower, sunflower, and sweet pea as seed-bearing plants.

Do cardinals eat safflower seeds?

Safflower seeds are beloved by cardinals. Many cardinal species, including the seed-loving Northern cardinal, Desert cardinal, and their South American relatives, the Vermillion cardinals, as well as many other species of cardinals, prefer safflower seeds in addition to sunflower seeds.

What do baby cardinals eat?

Cardinal young are given high-protein meals that mostly consist of soft invertebrates like larvae, worms, and caterpillars, as well as soft berries and other regurgitated items.

Newborn cardinals (and other baby birds) require protein and fat to quickly put on weight, and soft insects are also more palatable to predators.

Initially, the mother would often vomit most food into the mouths of the infants. As soon as the chicks are able to eat them, seeds and other plant material will be added to the diet.

For up to two months after they leave the nest, parents of baby cardinals continue to feed them.

How Do Cardinals Eat and Drink in the Winter?

Snow and the fruits and insects that cardinals consume provide them with water during the winter. Ponds and lakes, among other water sources, can be frozen over.

To guarantee that cardinals have access to clean water, get a birdbath with a heater. If you already have a birdbath, add a de-icer to it.

In the winter, canines, wolves, and other predators can see cardinals more easily, therefore they travel in flocks to defend their own. Cardinals may hide from predators while they forage for food by building their nests in the shelter of big evergreen and other deciduous trees.

These non-migratory birds can eat well and endure the chilly, severe winters thanks to human-maintained birdbaths and birdfeeders.

Cardinals Eat Berries

Northern cardinals consume a lot of berries in addition to their favorite diet, seeds. They hunt for a range of foods as availability fluctuates throughout the year because they are non-migratory birds. They are fairly adaptable, according to Gary. “As a resident bird, they must be.”

However, studies show that when eating fruits, cardinals continue to be after the seeds, frequently throwing away a large portion of the fruit flesh. Fruits with bigger seeds may therefore be more alluring.

Since cardinals feed close to the ground, seek out berry bushes with a variety of fruiting periods and miniature shrubs. Try sumac, dogwood, hackberry, northern bayberry, and serviceberry to draw cardinals.


Cardinals may live for 13 to 15 years if they have a lifelong partner, access to food and water from hospitable people, and a healthy habitat with enough of insects and other natural food. (To increase the likelihood that they will live a long, healthy life, it is vital to keep house cats, owls, and other predators away from them.)

These lovely redbirds appear on many holiday cards and nature illustrations, and they are a welcome sight in many backyards all year long.

If you want to learn more about cardinals, All About Birds offers a thorough introduction to this unique songbird. Birdwatchers can read the Wild Bird Guide – Northern Cardinal or Bird Watching Daily for additional in-depth information.