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Feeding Cardinals In The Winter – How To Attract & Feed Redbirds!

Not only is feeding cardinals in the wintertime a great way to add backyard activity and interest, but it can also play an important role in helping these beautiful birds survive through the long winter months.

feeding cardinals in the winter
Male cardinals (right) are bright red with a black outline around their beak. Although female cardinals (left) have the same dark outline around their beak, their bodies are more muted in color, with just traces of red around the edges of their wings and tail.

There is nothing more stunning than catching a glimpse of a cardinal flying about in winter. Whether it is an ultra-red male, or the pale, muted colors of a female cardinal, they stand out in stark contrast to the bare backdrop of wintertime in nature.

Unlike many other species of birds, cardinals do not migrate during the cold winter months. Instead, they stick around and forage for wild berries, nuts and seeds. All while seeking shelter and security in evergreen trees, shrubs, and even overgrown thickets.

But locating food can be difficult at times for cardinals. Especially toward the end of the winter, when many of their typical food sources become scarce.

Even during the cold winter months, cardinals need a source of water. Here, a male cardinal seeks a little drink from a stream under the cover of a few thickets.

And that is exactly when providing them a constant source of nutrition in the right space can make all the difference. For both keeping the cardinals safe, healthy and secure, and for having them visit your backyard on a regular basis!

How To Attract & Feed Cardinals In The Winter

Selecting The Right Feeder

Before we cover a cardinal’s diet and favorite snacks, let’s take a look at when, how and where they like to eat. Cardinals are early and late feeders, preferring to eat in the early morning, and right before the sun goes down.

With that in mind, it is important to make sure feeders are well stocked at these times. In addition, cardinals still need water to survive, even in the middle of winter.

A small shallow pan of water placed on the ground near their feeder at feeding time will help keep them coming back. And even if it freezes, they can still chip at the ice with their strong beaks to provide a bit of moisture.

feeding cardinals in the winter
Cardinals prefer to eat facing their food. With this in mind, flat, shallow feeders are better than traditional tube or house feeders. You can also throw seed below the feeder as cardinals are more than happy to forage on the ground.

Cardinals Eating Habits

Cardinals are known to be front feeders. Which means they like to have their food in front of them with a bit of area to sit or perch. For this reason, platform feeders are one of the best options when feeding cardinals, especially in the winter. Product Link : Platform Bird Feeder

It allows plenty of space for the cardinals to sit and enjoy their dinner ,even when snow covers the ground below. Speaking of the ground, cardinals are enjoy ground feeding when available. When filling your feeder, always leave a bit under the feeders as well to provide extra feeding space.

Selecting The Right Location

Finally, where you place your feeder can really make a difference for the safety of cardinals. A cardinal’s red coat can be spotted easily, especially in the stark whiteness of winter. Unfortunately, that can make them easy prey for hungry hawks.

cardinal bird feeder platform
Tray feeders like this one from Going Green are perfect for attracting Cardinals and other front feeding birds. It gives them a steady platform to sit and enjoy their favorite snacks.

Locating feeders under the cover of a tree, or near bushes and shrubs will provide them with natural protection from hawks. It also helps provide cover from cats and other predators too.

Providing The Right Food Sources – Feeding Cardinals In The Winter

When it comes to attracting cardinals to your yard, there are two food sources that stand out above all others: sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.

Sunflower seeds, especially black-oil sunflower seeds, are extremely important for a cardinal’s diet. Not only are they high in calories, their higher oil content gives them plenty of nutrition that provides extra body heat to help handle the cold.

safflower seeds
Safflower seeds are a great source of nutrition for cardinals through the long winter months. They are also usually left alone by other animals and birds, making them readily available for cardinals.

And although black sunflower seeds may be a cardinal’s first choice, safflower seeds are a close second. The best part of safflower seeds is they are not preferred by other birds or even squirrels and chipmunks.

In addition to sunflower and safflower seeds, cardinals are also fond of cracked corn, peanuts, and dried berries. All provide excellent nutritional value for a balanced diet.

If you are not into creating your own feeding mix, you can actually find pre-mixed cardinal food blends in stores and on-line. Product Link: Cardinal Bird Feed Blends

Feed Consistently

Most important of all when feeding cardinals in the winter is to feed consistently. Cardinals become creatures of habit, and if they find a consistent food source, they will visit regularly. And what can brighten up dreary, stark winter day more than a beautiful redbird’s daily visit?

feeding cardinals in the winter
Cardinals are one of the few bright spots in the winter landscape. Once a cardinal finds a food source that is to their liking, they will become frequent and loyal visitors.

Although cardinals are usually territorial, in the winter, they will congregate to feed together. In fact, with good feed available, it is common to see 10 or more cardinals feeding at the same time.

For more on winter bird feeding, check out our article How To Help Birds Survive Winter. Here is to feeding cardinals this winter, and attracting these beautiful birds to your landscape. And, to enjoying the simple beauty of this gorgeous bird all winter long!

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