How To Attract Cardinals To Your Yard (11 Tips & Tricks)


There are only two species of cardinals in the United States. However, they can be seen almost everywhere outside of the far western states.

It’s easy to attract cardinals to your yard. Offer them seeds and fruit in an easy-to-access feeder along with clean water. Keep your trees and bushes leafy so they have good spots to nest and roost. And don’t forget to protect cardinals from your windows and from squirrels that steal their food.

Check out these tricks for attracting cardinals and more in our guide below.

11 Tips For Attracting Cardinals To Your Yard

1. Offer Cardinals Their Favorite Foods

A cardinal’s diet is a mix of seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. You can use planters for seeds and leave out fresh fruit like grapes and blackberries to attract northern cardinals.

For the pyrrhuloxia species, stick with mostly nuts and seeds, as they don’t like fruit quite as much.

Black-oil sunflower seeds are very popular with these birds, but they’ll visit bird feeders with most kinds of seed.

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2. Use Hopper Or Platform Feeders

There are many types of bird feeders on the market. Some are for specific species, like hummingbirds, while others hold certain foods, like suet.

Cardinals favor platform and hopper feeders. Hopper feeders have a central container for the food with a surrounding ledge around which the birds can hop.

Some look similar to birdhouses, as the roof keeps the food dry. They’re also much harder for squirrels to access.

Platform feeders, on the other hand, are usually flat trays, sometimes with a roof. The roofs are higher up and the center of the tray is open rather than an enclosed container. They’re easier for birds to access, but also for squirrels.

3. Discourage Squirrels

Squirrels are notorious for robbing bird feeders. This can deter cardinals since they’re competing for food.

Part of the appeal of artificial bird feeders is the ease of getting the food. If the cardinals have to fight harder, they may fly to another yard instead.

Hang your bird feeders from a stand, about nine or ten feet away from the central pole. The squirrels will have a hard time climbing up and reaching the feeders. They should also be at least five feet from the ground.

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4. Encourage Insects

You may want to get rid of squirrels but keep those bugs around. Cardinals need insects as part of their diet. So, a great way to attract them is to let insects live in your yard.

This doesn’t mean keeping harmful insects or allowing an infestation to run rampant. But you can put away the pesticides. These can actually be harmful to the environment and the cardinals you want to attract.

So, let the cardinals take care of your pest problems naturally instead.

5. Plant Fruit Bushes

Another way to attract more cardinals to your yard is to plant fruiting bushes. Northern cardinals in particular are fond of fruit like blackberries, but pyrrhuloxias will also eat them.

Fruit bushes are a great way to provide cardinals with natural food and increase biodiversity in your area.

6. Plant Dense Evergreen Trees

If you want a tree with the perfect amount of foliage for a northern cardinal, try an evergreen. These trees have multiple benefits for cardinals, which will draw them to your yard.

Evergreen trees keep their leaves all year, of course. Cardinals are also year-round birds, so having a place for them to stay during the winter is great.

Evergreen branches also have thick foliage to protect your cardinals. Finally, many evergreens have cones that cardinals enjoy breaking open for the seeds.

In short, evergreen trees provide cover, food, and year-long shelter for cardinals.

7. Don’t Over-Prune Before Winter

If you have trees besides evergreens that you want to winterize, be careful how much you trim away. While pruning is important for tree health and your safety, cardinals still need a place to stay when it’s cold.

Leave your trees, bushes, and shrubs with as many small branches and leaves as possible. If you provide food and water during the winter as well as shelter, your yard will likely attract more cardinals.

8. Offer Nesting Material

Having a light touch while pruning can provide plenty of space and materials for a cardinal to nest. But you can supplement their supplies with some extras, too.

Leave some of your lawn clippings out instead of bagging them all up to throw away. Let spiderwebs grow in dusty corners and pile up any stray twigs instead of disposing of them.

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9. Provide Leafy Coverage

Bushes not only provide food, but they also provide shelter for visiting cardinals. Cardinals prefer to roost and eat in leafy areas with a lot of cover.

Fruit bushes, shrubs, and trees with dense foliage create an inviting space for cardinals to feel safe. It also provides them a place to nest, since they’re not fond of nesting boxes or platforms.

10. Make Your Windows Bird-Friendly

Part of the appeal of attracting cardinals to your yard is that you can watch them from your windows. But windows can pose a threat to cardinals if you’re not prepared.

The reflections of the sky can attract birds to your windows, causing them to fly into them and hurt themselves. A cardinal is less likely to visit your yard again if it hurts itself.

Make sure your feeders aren’t too close to your windows to make them less attractive to the birds. You can also try lessening the reflection by using frosted coverings or pulling the shades shut.

11. Remember To Give Them Water

Like all birds, cardinals need to drink and bathe often.

By providing a nice bird bath in your yard, you’re giving them an area to do both. Shallow pedestals are a good option, especially if you want to attract pyrrhuloxias.

If you want to draw in northern cardinals, consider a heated bird bath for the winter months. This way you can provide water without it freezing over. The water will also be more comfortable for the cardinals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Cardinals Are In My Area?

There are two species of cardinals that live in the United States. The most common is the northern cardinal. Its range extends from Maine all the way down and across to Texas.

The pyrrhuloxia, or desert cardinal, is much rarer. It only inhabits the southern parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Both species of birds are non-migratory, though. That means you can see them year-round.

The chart below gives more information about their location and breeding seasons.

AreaBreeding PeriodMigrating/Breeding/ResidentCommon Species
Midwest to East Coast, SouthwestMarch to SeptemberYear-round residentNorthern Cardinal
SouthwestLate February to mid-AugustYear-round residentPyrrhuloxia

What Kind Of Trees Do Cardinals Nest In?

Northern cardinals like trees that have branches closer to the ground. Try dogwood, or plant grape vines and clematis around a tree trunk for extra coverage. Evergreen trees are a good choice, as well as shrubs.

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Pyrrhuloxia nest on small twigs away from trunks, so you can plant trees and bushes that are more open. Mesquite trees are some of the most common nesting sites for these cardinals.

Native trees are always a great choice for any yard; cardinals will usually choose them over unfamiliar or exotic trees.

What Colors Attract Cardinals?

There’s little evidence that specific colors attract cardinals more than others. An experiment showed that, if anything, they prefer natural colors for their food. The next closest color, but only by half, was blue.

Red may also attract more cardinals simply because it attracts them as mates. 

How Can You Attract Cardinals In The Winter?

Since cardinals are year-round birds, it’s easy to attract them in the winter.

Pyrrhuloxias are less likely to experience very cold temperatures in their native range. So, you don’t have to do much more than you would in other seasons.

This is mostly true for northern cardinals as well, except when it comes to water. Try heating your bird bath in the winter as well as providing the normal food and shelter. 

Do Cardinals Use Birdhouses?

Unlike many backyard birds, cardinals do not use birdhouses. They prefer to nest in the safety of low trees and bushes. They will also likely avoid nesting platforms.

If you want cardinals to roost and nest in your yard, just provide a lot of natural coverage instead.

In Summary

Attracting cardinals to your yard is easy. Fruit bushes and seed feeders provide food, and bird baths give them clean water. Include plenty of trees and shrubs for shelter, and your yard can be a haven for cardinals all year long.

Get Our FREE Bird Feeder Cheat Sheet
Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
Download The FREE Cheat Sheet

James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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