Planting ideas to attract northern cardinals


Few views are more astonishing than the scarlet red northern cardinals against the crisp white of freshly fallen snow. The best time to see the Cardinals is early in the morning and just before dark, at dusk, as the Cardinals are among the first and last birds to feed.

Male cardinals have bright red feathers, and both males and females have crested heads. The plumage of female cardinals is a duller reddish brown. Unusual among songbirds, both male and female cardinals sing.

You can attract northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) to your garden by planting shrubs and plants that provide food and shelter.

Northern Cardinals eat mainly berries, weed seeds, grains, and fruits. They are ground eaters who search for food by jumping on the ground. Because they do not migrate, they seek out a variety of foods throughout the year.

They also eat slugs, snails and insects, and feed their young almost entirely on insects. With their powerful jaw muscles, they can eat even large seeds. When choosing plants to attract cardinals, look for nasturtiums, Purple Majesty millet, elderberries, buckwheat, purple coneflower, safflower, sunflower, and sweet pea.

They eat fruit but often discard most of the fruit pulp, preferring the seeds. So, plant fruits with larger seeds, like sumac, dogwood, hackberry, northern bayberry, and serviceberry.

To keep Northern Cardinals in your garden all year round, try to find a couple to build a nest on your property. A few conifers will be ideal for attracting them when they build their first nests in early spring.

Northern Cardinals often raise several broods of chicks each year and move their nests as summer progresses. Plant a mixture of small trees and dense shrubs such as box elder, eastern red cedar, nannyberry, wild vines and shrub roses. Northern Cardinals feed their chicks almost exclusively on insects and caterpillars, so add plants that will bring caterpillars, such as dill, fennel, hollyhock, mustard greens, and snapdragon.

If you want to attract cardinals with a bird feeder, choose one that is mounted on a pole about six to eight feet high. Avoid hanging feeders as Cardinals prefer strong, stable platforms, and they might not use a feeder that swings in the wind or is unstable.

Northern Cardinals need water for drinking and bathing. A birdbath is a great way to provide both. Just like with bird feeders, your birdbath should be large and stable due to the larger size of the northern cardinal. It should be about two to three inches deep.

Like most birds, Northern Cardinals prefer moving water, so try adding a drip hose or even a solar-powered fountain to the birdbath to keep the water cool and moving. Try to put a birdbath on the ground, as as northern cardinals feed, they often stop to drink.

Some people think that seeing a cardinal is a sign of a deceased person. Plant cardinal-friendly plants and think of the ones you love near and far while gazing at the bright red birds against the green of a fir tree.


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