How to Attract Northern Cardinals to Your Backyard For Feeding and Nesting

Who wouldn't want to attract Northern Cardinals to their backyard? The brightly colored male with his proud crest stands out in the bird world.

I've been fortunate not only to have them nesting in my yard, but I was able to live-stream the complete nesting cycle of Cardinals on the internet.

I can attest to how fun and rewarding the experience of having these birds in your backyard can be. Here are some surefire ways to help you bring these beautiful birds into your yard.

Foods that Attract Cardinals

Northern Cardinals are primarily seed-eaters, so having a bird feeder filled with sunflower or safflower seeds is the fastest way to attract them to your backyard.

water attracts this male northern cardinal on ground by stream

Male Northern Cardinal

The type of feeder makes a difference, too. Cardinals perch when they feed and need a platform type of feeder.

You can also offer mealworms, chopped apples, and a small bowl of grape jelly at your feeding station. Grape jelly will attract a variety of birds in spring, like the Orioles.

Always keep your feeders full. These birds are the first in the morning and the last in the evening to feed.

When feeding their young, Cardinals supplement their diets with insects. For this reason, avoid using pesticides in your yard so we don't harm the birds.

close up of blueberries on plant

Blueberries on Plant

Think about planting fruiting shrubs like blueberries, blackberries, and chokeberries which hold their fruit into winter, providing a natural food source.

Consider plants that host caterpillars. When nesting and feeding their young, Cardinals feed on different caterpillars for protein.

Having a couple of these types of bushes and flowers in your yard will keep them close. Try spiceberry, lilac, milkweed, and coneflowers.

Check with your county extension agent or local garden center for native varieties that do well in your area.

Shrubs and Trees that Attract Cardinals

Cardinals typically nest in thickets, bushes, or low trees such as hawthorns, dogwoods, brambles, and evergreens.

They also may build nests in shrubs like viburnums, hollies, grapevines, and privets. Evergreen varieties offer winter protection.

snow cover pine tree shelter for cardinals

Pine Tree Offers Winter Protection

They prefer dense, thorny shrubs or trees with thick branches and plenty of foliage for protection from predators.

If you have the room in your backyard, provide a small brush pile that allows them to hide from overhead predators.

Cardinals also need a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing, so consider adding a birdbath or small pond to your backyard.

Provide Water for Cardinals

Like most birds, Northern Cardinals are attracted to water. A ground-level birdbath is ideal for them.

Birds need water year-round. I would recommend a birdbath that is heated. This way, the birds will be in your yard instead of wasting energy looking for water.

heated birdbath with snow around edges

Heated Birdbath

When trying to attract Cardinals to your backyard keep in mind, close to the house is not the best.

Cardinals are shy birds and feeders and birdbaths should be placed away from houses and around trees and bushes for protection.

Cardinals will attack their reflection. So keep feeders away from windows.

These birds feed on the ground, making cats a major predator. Keeping cats indoors or supervising them during their outdoor time can go a long way keeping the birds safe.

Cardinals also prefer quieter areas, so try to keep noise levels in your backyard to a minimum.

Just have some patients. It may take some time to attract cardinals to your backyard, but when they come, they'll keep coming back more and more.