Cardinals are one of the most popular of all songbirds. The male cardinals are famous for their brilliant red feathers and crested heads. Female cardinals are also quite striking, but in a more subtle way, as their feathers have a rosy color.
Cardinals are not shy about taking food from a feeder. They’re usually the first birds at the feeder in the morning and the last ones to feed at dusk. Because cardinals eat so early in the morning and so late at dusk, they seem to have plenty of time for singing during the midday while other birds are feeding.
At the feeder, male cardinals will often fight other birds for the seed; they’ll even fight their own mates. But the possessive male will eventually relent and allow other birds to feed. It is interesting that as the breeding season approaches in March, the domineering mood of the male cardinal changes toward its mate as far as feeding goes. In fact, you may see the male cardinal in the late winter shuck seeds out of sunflower shells for the female and then feed her as she lowers her head back to receive the seed, much like baby birds do when they are fed by their parents.
As for feeding strategies, cardinals prefer to be fed from feeders that are about 4 to 6 feet high. They prefer the more steady stationary feeders rather than hanging-type feeders. However, be sure you protect your bird feeder from free-ranging cats who will hunt the birds.
Cardinals love sunflower seeds, especially the solid black, oil-type ones. They will sometimes scratch their way through an entire seed mix to get every sunflower seed before eating the other seeds. Cardinals will also eat safflower seeds and white proso millet when sunflower seeds are not available.
Cardinals do not migrate. Although they tend to wander in the winter, seldom do they fly more than a few miles from their nest. Since cardinals do not migrate, if you establish a home landscape that is attractive to these birds, you could have a cardinal family live in your yard for many years.
Cardinals, like most birds, prefer their home surroundings to have a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees in the area. They’ll often nest in shrubs or thickets that face an open lawn. Recommended plants for nesting include viburnum, raspberry, elderberry, hackberry, sour cherry, dogwood, grape, and hawthorn.