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COLUMN: Attracting cardinals to your yard

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 1/15/23

For many bird lovers, seeing a cardinal holds special meaning, evoking emotional or spiritual feelings.

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COLUMN: Attracting cardinals to your yard

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For many bird lovers, seeing a cardinal holds special meaning, evoking emotional or spiritual feelings. It is said that the red bird is an uplifting, happy sign that those we have lost will live forever, as long as we keep their memory alive in our hearts. One of the most recognized birds, the cardinal offers a melodious song, splashy red color, and a jaunty crest. They are year-round residents and don’t migrate in the winter.

It’s easy to tell the difference between the male and female cardinals: the male is a bright red color, while the females are a subtle brown with splashes of red. The heavy, conical-shaped bill on the cardinal is perfect for cracking hard seed covers, but it’s also perfect for eating soft fruits and insects. If you want to attract more of these beautiful birds to your yard, here are some tips.

The right feeder

Given the mature size of these birds, cardinals need strong and sturdy places to perch. Small tube feeders are therefore not the best choices for these large birds. Cardinals are also heavier than many of the other backyard birds; they need sure footing when feeding or nesting. Hopper or platform feeders are your best choices. If you have an adjustable squirrel-proof feeder, make sure the feeder’s spring is on a setting that still allows cardinals to get to the seed. Don’t let feeders stay empty for too long. The cardinals will move and search for more consistent food sources elsewhere.

Food choices

Cardinals aren’t picky eaters. A wide variety of seed will work to attract them, as will nuts and fruit. Sunflower seeds, suet, or broken-up peanuts are good cardinal-attracting snacks. Cardinals also eat mealworms; which are also attractive to bluebirds. Imagine seeing a cardinal and a bluebird at a mealworm feeder! Apple slices or berries are also a good food source. Adding plants that produce dark-colored berries will help keep cardinals happy. Natural plantings will help provide winter shelter as well as food.

Favorite plantings

Cardinals look for dense growth, like evergreens, to build their nests. Maybe they realize what a bright color they are and how they stand out to potential predators! They rarely use a bird house. If you want cardinals to stay in your yard, plant evergreens or dense shrubs. Offer the birds nesting materials. You can use an empty suet feeder and put out pieces of pet hair, yarn, string, or other lightweight materials.

Like all other birds, cardinals need a water source. Cardinals actually enjoy birdbaths; a little clean water in a birdbath can provide some potential entertainment! Even a plant saucer filled with clean water is enough. In the winter, you can buy heated birdbaths or convert an existing one. Without heating, be sure to check water sources often in the winter should they freeze. Add a couple of sticks to the water so that the cardinals have a place to perch while drinking.

Bird-watching is becoming popular for people of all ages. Many people enjoy hiking or walking and checking out the birds. Cardinals have a very melodious song and can be very popular to watch during winter hikes. If you want to know more about attracting cardinals or identifying birds and their habitats, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is your best reference. Try “Merlin:” the online guide to bird identification help. View live webcams along with all things dedicated to birds. Visit the website at allaboutbirds.org.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County answers home and garden questions which can be emailed to homeandgarden@cornell.edu or call 315-736-3394, press 1 and ext. 333. Leave your question, name and phone number. Questions are answered weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4p.m. Also, visit our website at cceoneida.com or phone 315-736-3394, press 1 and then ext. 100.

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