What Do Cardinals Eat? A Detailed Guide

What Do Cardinals Eat

Birding is the second most popular hobby in the US after gardening. You must have noticed a cardinal while going about your day since they are spread throughout North and South America. 

These are brightly colored birds with a crown on their heads like that of cardinals. They belong in the family of passerine birds, which are known for their toes that are adapted for perching. 

Closely watching these majestic birds will make you wonder what they eat to sustain their beauty and bodies. Here is your answer;

What Do Cardinals Eat?

A large part of a cardinal’s diet consists of fruit and seeds; hence they spend most of their time flying from tree to tree foraging for food. They eat blackberries, ragweed, grapes, oats, vervain flowers, sumac, wild cherry, and plantains. 

They usually say about 15 feet of the ground to access berry-bearing bushes and plants with seeds. They get their water from fountains, fresh ponds, and streams. 

Details On A Cardinal’s Diet

Cardinals eat mostly fruits and seeds from trees and shrubs out in the wild. There is a minor difference between the diets of the specific Cardinal species. 

The difference comes up because they live in different environments. Most of their diet is made up of berries. 

Southern Cardinals prefer to feed on Blackberries, ragweed, wild cherry, and plantains. The northern Cardinals prefer vervain flowers, grapes, field corn, oats, sedge, and sumac.

Cardinals feed on the mentioned foods, but they are not limited to that. They can draw proteins from eating insects such as flies, centipedes, moths, katydids, beetles, and butterflies. 

They have a wider range of food developed for their widespread habitation. In case you come across a wounded cardinal that has fallen out of its nest. 

You should take it home and nurse it back to health. You should feed it cat food mixed with water or canned cat food, salmon, tuna, or any available canned fish.

Ensure you provide the cardinal with enough water by dripping it into the bird’s mouth using a pipette. 

Please do not give the cardinal any milk; care must be gentle and provide a warm place for the bird to recover before you release it back to the wild. 

Cardinals love visiting birdbaths all year, and they like fresh drinking water. Whether you are nursing one or you, keep it as a pet, ensure you provide a steady supply of freshwater each day. 

If you live in a cold area, put the birdbath in a sunny spot or close to a heater to prevent the water from getting too cold or freezing. 

Drinking water should be at room temperature and slightly warm during cold seasons to help the bird warm.

How To Attract Cardinals To Your Backyard

You could want to have these beautiful birds around your backyard to make it more beautiful and relaxing for you. 

This is a common question, and it is a good thing to do since the birds are very beautiful and peaceful. 

There are a lot of factors that will affect how many birds you can get. Understanding all the aspects will help you attract more cardinals and other birds.

It is important to know that some areas have a small population of Cardinals so that you won’t get many birds.

1. Provide cover

Cardinals are small in size, and this makes them prey for larger predatory birds like the falcon. Therefore, they will prefer being in places that have a lot of cover where they can hide from these birds to stay safe. 

Add some hedges, flowers, terraces, and other additions to give the birds cover. Cardinals are birds that prefer to fly and nest close to the ground. 

They will be safe from predators, have a source of food, and they will remain in your yard. Plant landscaping shrubs and trees since cardinals prefer to nest in heavy cover.

2. Provide them with the correct food

Buy high-quality and high-grade seeds to feed the birds that come to your backyard. The birds will know your yard to be a place they can get food, so they will nest nearby or come around daily.

Some good choices are black oil sunflower seed, dried cram berries, sunflower, and other berries. You can also plant some fruits around your backyard since cardinals love fruits like apples. 

It is important to note that cardinals are ground feeders. Water is another important part of a cardinal’s diet and providing water makes the environment more welcoming for the bird. 

You can add a farm fountain or a birdbath with freshwater near the feeding tray for the birds to hydrate and cool off.

3. The Type Of Feeder

Feeder for cardinals ought to be relatively larger than those of other birds. They should allow the birds enough space to fly through and around it. 

Ensure the feeder has a tray, platform, or good perch for the birds to land on as they feed. There are a lot of options for you in the market. 

The feeders you use should be specifically designed to make feeding easy for them. Getting a feeder that makes the birds strain to eat will reduce the number of birds that visit your yard, and they might stop entirely.

4. Feeding time

Unlike hummingbirds, cardinals are very shy and elusive; if you don’t put this into account, you might end up getting frustrated by them. 

They often feed very early in the morning and late in the evening when there are no other birds or people.

Filling your feeders at the correct time will help attract the birds and make them more confident as they spend more time in your backyard. 

They might come and leave without you even noticing, so be patient with them and keep up the feeding schedules.

Facts About The Northern Cardinal

There are a lot of interesting facts about the Cardinals apart from their name. They are common in North America; thus, you need to know as much as possible about living harmoniously with them. Here are some details on the bird;

  • Only adult males have the bright red color. Females have a dull red-brown plumage with an orange beak and traces of orange in their wing and tail feathers. 
  • Cardinals don’t follow a yearly migration like most birds. This pattern means that you can attract them all year round if you set the correct conditions.
  • The cardinal is the official state bird of seven states in the US. Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, and West Virginia. This makes it United States’ most popular state bird.
  • The name came from American colonists who named the bird because of its color and its crown, which match that of the Catholic cardinal. They also have a red color on their robes; thus, it was associated with the bird and influenced its naming.
  • The male cardinals get their red color from the food they eat, the same as flamingoes. They eat a lot of berries that have red in them. 

The red food gets digested, and the pigments are absorbed into their bloodstream and feathers. If a male cardinal changes its diet and stops feeding on red berries, it will lose the red color it is known for overtime.

  • Their song is another interesting aspect of this bird since it has only two parts. Cardinals sing very often and loudly, making their songs unmistakable while you are near them. They are some of the bird species in which both males and females sing to each other. 

Singing is part of the bird’s mating ritual and communication. They use the calls to locate their mates, nests, and their young. The song is almost similar for males and females, but females are a bit longer and complex.

  • Northern Cardinals are one of the few bird species that are gynandromorphous. This defect can occur during cell division, making one cell male and the other female. The cells self-replicate and make one half of the bird male while the other is female. 

Since the birds are sexually dimorphic, you can see the difference in the bird’s appearance. The bird is split in the middle, and one half has the bright red color of a male while the other half has the dull color of a female.


Cardinals are a beautiful bird species, with the males being most recognizable with their bright red plumage. 

Cardinals mainly feed on berries, seeds, and fruit, but they can feed on insects to get proteins. You can attract Cardinals to your home by installing feeders and providing food for them. 

The feeders should have a wide platform since cardinals are ground feeders. Cardinals are shy, so you have to provide them with cover to hide if a predator comes around.

Cardinals are a very interesting bird species, and you need to learn as much as you can from them. 

Their popularity is seen in them being the official state bird for seven states. Their calls are unique and familiar to anyone that lives near them.