Planting Ideas to Attract Northern Cardinals
Few sights are more breathtaking than the scarlet red northern cardinals against the crisp white of freshly fallen snow. The best time to see cardinals is early in the morning and just before dark, at dusk, as 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 feathers of female cardinals are 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 mainly eat berries, weed seeds, grains, and fruits. They are terrestrial feeders that search for food by hopping 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 even eat 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 shed most of the fruit pulp, preferring the seeds. So, plant fruits with larger seeds, such as sumac, dogwood, hackberry, serviceberry, and serviceberry.
To keep northern cardinals in your garden all year round, try getting a couple of them to build a nest on your property. A few conifers will be ideal to attract them when building their first nests in early spring.
Northern cardinals often raise several broods of chicks each year and move their nests as the summer progresses. Plant a mix of small trees and dense shrubs such as box elderberry, eastern red cedar, nannyberry, wild vine and shrub roses. Northern cardinals feed their chicks almost exclusively 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 feeder, choose one mounted on a pole about six to eight feet high. Avoid hanging feeders because 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 bird feeders, your birdbath should be large and stable due to the Northern Cardinal’s larger size. 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 putting a birdbath on the floor, because while northern cardinals are feeding, they often stop and drink.
Some people believe that seeing a cardinal is a sign of someone who is dead. Plant cardinal-friendly plants and think of your loved ones near and far as you watch the bright red birds against the green of a fir tree.