Cardinal  |  December 09, 2019

Cardinals Bring Holiday Cheer and Color

By: Mel Toellner

Photo Courtesy of Gail Hagans from the Songbird Station Photo Contest.

As this issue of the Songbird Station Newsletter arrives in mailboxes, our thoughts will be turning to the upcoming holiday season. For many of us the days ahead will include snow. What a beautiful contrast the crimson red Northern Cardinal gives against pure white, fresh snow. Can you think of anything more enjoyable to put you in the holiday spirit? No wonder it is often referred to as the Winter Holiday Bird.

Northern Cardinal Ornament from Cobane Studios

How many images of the Northern Cardinal do you use as holiday decorations? Is one of your favorite ornaments a Cardinal? What about the tablecloth, outside doormat, holiday wreath, gift wrapping paper? Notice in November and December every time you see the image of a Cardinal as you do your holiday shopping.

While the Cardinal may best be known for its flash of color in garden and woodland, have you ever found one of its feathers on the ground? Blue Jays and Robins shed their feathers like so much fall foliage, but Cardinals just might be the greatest protectors of the princely robes in the feathered kingdom.

Cardinal Pair Glass Light Up Globe

As one of the most recognized songbirds in North America, Cardinals also could be known for their virtues; they are monogamous and remain together throughout the year. They aid in pest control, feeding on such insects as potato beetles, cotton boll weevils and the cucumber beetle. And they may be economically valuable because of their weed seed consumption, eating at least one hundred kinds in the wild.

At your feeder, Cardinals prefer black oil sunflower or safflower seeds. They roll the seed around with their tongue until it is sideways in their strong, cone-shaped bill. Then they crack it open and eject the hull before swallowing. Cardinals approach the feeder with an attitude, as if aware of their royal heritage. They do not suffer the chatter of neighboring Sparrows nor the infighting of house finches, but dine with their mate in majestic splendor.

Cardinal Chorus

During the winter, the male Cardinal tries to dominate at the feeder, but his mate usually ignores him and goes right on eating. In the spring, however, male Cardinals have the delightful habit of feeding hulled seeds to the female as part of their courtship. It often occurs at feeders and is endearing to watch. He hops over to her, tilts his head sideways and places the tidbit in her bill.

Year round you’ll have the most success attracting Cardinals by providing seed in a feeder with a larger flat perching area. A ground feeder or a hanging tray feeder filled with black oil sunflower and perhaps a little safflower and or peanuts is sure to be a Cardinal favorite. Keep your Cardinals healthy by using a feeder like the Songbird Essentials Small Ground Feeder that includes an easy to clean metal mesh bottom. If you own a tube feeder, you’ll want to attach a seed tray or a seed hoop to give Cardinals a flat spot to land and feed. Another sure way to attract Cardinals (and other desired songbirds) is to provide heated water in a birdbath or saucer. My new favorite is the SE995 Songbird Spa that can be mounted 3 ways. I use mine with the deck clamp in winter and ground legs in spring and summer.

A-Leg Ground Feeder

Males are bright red crested and have a black throat and face. Females are a duller reddish brown. Adults of both sexes have a bright red bill, but the bills of juveniles are brown.

Want to add brilliant holiday color to your landscape? Follow our Cardinal tips and you’ll enjoy colorful Cardinal Holiday cheer out your windows! Enjoy! The below poem sums it up best.

The Cardinal in My Tree

By: Mrs. Dennis Getz (DeMotte, IN)

Pretty little red bird singing in my tree, I wish that I could tell you of the joy you bring to me. I know that God has sent you by my window to be near, to lift my broken spirits and to brighten them with cheer. Thank you, God, for red birds and all the gifts You give, to tell us of Your glory and remind us that You Live!

Cardinal, Attracting Birds  |  January 11, 2019

Attract Cardinals to Your Backyard

One of the most loved and well-recognized Missouri birds is the Northern Cardinal (so named because its color matches the robes of Catholic Cardinals.) This photogenic songbird can be seen on an incredible variety of gift items, clothing and home décor. The contrast of the bright red bird against freshly fallen snow is visually appealing. By the way, it is the male cardinal that we think of; the female’s color is a grayish tan.


Cardinals are popular not only for their looks; they reward us richly and rapidly if we scatter a few handfuls of their favorite seed on the ground or on a low feeding table. Both the male and the female sing a pleasant, simple song that’s often counter sung (the male answers the female on a slightly different pitch).

Did you know that they do not migrate? Cardinals have increased their breeding range to the North and West as the number of suburbs and bird feeders has grown.

Here’s more specific information on the food, water and shelter requirements of Northern Cardinals.

Quality Food

Seeds that Cardinals prefer include Black Oil Sunflower, Safflower, or a mixture of both. The Cardinal’s large bill also allows them to crack open the larger striped sunflower seeds. They typically eat in the early morning or late evening.

Cardinals are “ground” feeders and will also eat from other flat surfaces. So look for sturdy wood platform feeders (hopper, fly through and open platform) and place them about five feet above ground level. They prefer protective cover when feeding, so they’re more likely to eat if the feeder is placed near trees or shrubbery.

Though tube feeders are popular with bird lovers, the perches on them are usually too small for Northern Cardinals to feed comfortably. You need to attach a tray, and Songbird Station carries one for nearly everqtube feeder made!

In the Spring, look for their ” Mate Feeding Ritual”, when a male Cardinal offers a female a carefully selected seed.           

They do eat some insects and that is typically what they feed their young.

Clean, Fresh Water

Northern Cardinals drink water by scooping it into their bill and tipping their head back. Bird baths and bird waters need to accommodate the size of these larger songbirds, with water depth of 2 or 3 inches at the deepest point being best. Adding drippers to keep the water moving will help attract them to your bird bath.

Since they live in the same place all year, even during the winter, refill bird baths often, buy a deicer, or use a heated bird bath. Whatever you choose, change water often to keep it fresh and prevent dirt and algae building on their water source.

Safe, Secure Shelter (including nesting sites)

Northern Cardinals will not use nest boxes. They prefer to live along the edges of woods, near shrubs and in dense thickets of vine-y shrubs, and that’s usually where they build their nests. Don’t put feeders or seed so low that predators (such as cats) can easily get to them.

Planting fruit-bearing shrubs such as junipers, dogwoods, honeysuckle and viburums is sure to please them.

For nesting material, Cardinals prefer pine needles, small twigs, grass clippings, and other similar material.

More questions about attracting Cardinals to your yard in Central Missouri? Come in to Songbird Station and ask one of our friendly experts. We can also help you choose the perfect seed and feeders.

Tips Brochure:

Cardinals TIPs Trifold