Cardinal feeders for Chicago proper?

carterobrien(5, Chicago)April 20, 2007

Hello, would anyone here have any specific recommendations for a backyard bird feeder good for cardinals but that sparrows can't disturb?

I've seen a few cardinals in my neighborhood (Logan Sq/Avondale), and my local pet store had so many options I was bewildered, and as they had bluebird feeders (I've never heard of bluebirds in Chicago) I was a bit skeptical if they knew what they were doing.



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We have several feeders in our yard and are visited by many cardinals as well as bluejays, many kinds of sparrows, chicadees, etc. I have never seen a feeder for cardinals exclusively. Our feeders are the platform type and pole feeders that can hold black sunflower seeds which cardinals seem to love. We also put out whole in the shell peanuts. I am not aware of bluebirds in Chicago (born and raised there). I now live in the Fox Valley and have only seen bluebirds at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Do try a Google search on bird feeders. There are a few catalog companies that specialize in feeders as well as seed mixtures to attract specific species of birds. Have fun!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 5:08PM
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Cardinals should eat off any flat (platform) type feeder, but as mentioned, there aren't any that will include cardinals but exclude sparrows... if it's big enough for a cardinal to eat from, it will be big enough for lots of other birds. You can get the "squirrel resistant" type of feeder -- where the feeding platform is on a lever that closes above a certain weight (you can adjust them) -- that will slow down the larger birds like grackles -- but you really have to fine-tune it to make it take cardinal weight but not larger birds. Not hard to do, just takes patience. That won't take care of your sparrows, either. I found them something I just had to live with; they didn't prevent the cardinals from coming, and if I wanted to feed the cardinals I had to feed a lot of other birds.

One thing that works sometimes (not all the time) is to feed just safflower seed -- cardinals like it (although they like black oil sunflower seed better) but often sparrows don't -- but like I said, that doesn't always work. It's worth trying, however, especially if you can get a small amount to try first. Just don't mix it with any other seed.

Bluebirds prefer large open fields near shrubby/woody areas so you're really unlikely to get them in the city... but a shop will sell anything if people ask for it/don't know better -- or maybe they have customers that live in rural areas where there are bluebirds.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

Here is a link that might be useful: bluebird society

    Bookmark   April 21, 2007 at 6:38AM
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carterobrien(5, Chicago)

thank you both - have either of you had any success with unhulled sunflower seed? I saw that mentioned in a book as good for cardinals.

And our cardinal friend hung around all weekend, much to my great joy! he appears to be taking a liking to a red oak I planted last year.

do I understand right that Cardinals wouldn't eat from a hanging feeder, though? that platforms would be better?


    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 11:01AM
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pondwelr(z5 WI)

I have three mating pairs of cardinals that come to feed at my hanging feeder. It has a tray at the bottom of the tube. I also have a squirrel proof feeder and a flat perforated tray. The chippies and squirrels suck that one clean in one night however. I have my feeders right outside the window on my deck, and so get closeups of every species. I think so many sparrows are totally beautiful, and they have a lovely song. I have tubes for the many finches. and suet balls studded with nuts and fruit for the woodpeckers. I fill feeders with black sunflower and thistle for the finches.
Most of us want to 'go Hollywood' and only feed the beauties, but that just doesnt work or make ecological sense. It takes a huge variety of birds to successfully keep down the mosquitos and insect infestations that prevail in so many areas. If you feed all year round, you will soon come to appreciate the variety and benefits of the many birds that come to your feeder.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 6:35PM
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I know what a thrill it is to get a cardinal -- the farmhouse I lived in for 18 years had none when I first moved there -- I was so excited when my efforts with feeders, birdbaths, and habitat additions started paying off and the cardinals arrived!

Cardinals will come to hanging feeders as long as there's an area big enough for them to land on, as indicated by pondwelr. They often can't feed from tube feeders because the perches are small for them to sit on and twist around enough to get into the ports, but if there's a tray attached to the bottom, like pondwelr has, they can sit on that and feed. Some of my tray feeders have been on posts and some have been hanging -- and sometimes I feed right on the ground or another flat surface (where I live now we have a patio surrounded by a stone wall and we put seed on the top of the stone wall).

Unhulled seed is great because you don't have all the hulls all over the ground, and the birds love it (less work for them, too!). It is more expensive but that's the biggest drawback.

I don't have a house sparrow or finch "problem" where I am, but in my old farmhouse I had dozens of them -- I put cracked corn and millet on the ground for them; they still ate some of the black oil but they also ate on the ground a lot and it saved me a little $. Or so I like to believe :) And the millet draws in other little sparrows that aren't as common as house sparrows, like the white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, during migration. The more activity you get, the more you'll draw in. Warning: feeding birds can be addictive! :)

I'm including a link for the birding forum -- it's a great place to learn more about birds, if you're interested.

Have fun! and enjoy those cardinals!

Here is a link that might be useful: birding forum

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 4:33AM
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carterobrien(5, Chicago)

hey, I got a cheapie plastic dealio which I hung in a tree, paid an extra buck for "premium seed," and my local cardinal has already visited, as well as some sparrows and a chickadee!

I really don't mind feeding sparrows at all, I just didn't want them to scare off the cardinal, so it's a win-win.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 11:04AM
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carterobrien(5, Chicago)

thanks to all, success, I have new neighbors who seem quite happy sharing the feeder with all the neighborhood sparrows:

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 1:18PM
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I just purchased the Brome Squirrel Busters feeder and I am patiently monitoring it. I have already made an adjustment for the red wing Blackbird (who has a family in my next door neighbors attic) because he was pretty smart in figuring how to alter his weight by bouncing up and down. I just saw deer (1 big one of 4) that could reach one of the ports. Personally, I like squirrels and prefer them to the crows I am trying to discourage. But it is the Cards, yes the Cardinals, that I am waiting for to visit consistently. There are at least 10 on the ground at any one time, and I have only witnessed 1 (in about an hour) actually landing on the special cardinal ring. I'll keep you posted.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 8:46PM
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carterobrien(5, Chicago)

I got the squirrel buster deluxe, and I now have a regular feeding frenzy of house finches and sparrows, and our local cardinal hits it periodically as well, with morning doves eating what falls on the ground. the combination of the birds chirping completely drowns out local traffic, it's wonderful.

this morning I saw a grackle very creatively eating from it, the wily bugger more or less wrapped himself around it so he could get his head low enough to feed, it was quite a sight!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2008 at 12:14PM
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carterobrien(5, Chicago)

well, my love affair with the grackle was brief. one turned into a few, and they bully away every other bird, so unfortunately I am going to have to remove the cardinal ring to try and discourage them (they don't visit too much anyway) so the finches can eat.

otoh, we've had a few goldfinch visits, quite exciting!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2008 at 11:30AM
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We've had cardinals for several years, but they don't eat out of the feeders. I have those green squirrel proof ones, a plastic one like featured above & I also bought a red metal one that was specifically for cardinals. Finches, sparrows, red wing blackbirds & other birds love it, but not cardinals. They eat what spills on the ground feasting with many other varieties of birds at the same time. Doves, wood peckers, blue jays, starlings & many other birds eat seeds from the ground also.

The cardinal feeder is red metal that has faded in the sun. Other than that, it's very durable & fun to watch the many birds pull the seeds out.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cardinal feeder

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 11:56AM
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carterobrien(5, Chicago)

a quick update - I removed the black sunflower seeds from the feeder and have only safflower and thistle, and lo and behold, I am getting cardinals and cute little finches, and that seems to be it.

I had to drop the sunflower seeds as the sparrows were worse than pigs, they'd spill all the other seed out on the ground as they shoved each other around getting their preferred food - it was pretty bizarre, I'd see sparrows divebombing the feeder and knocking other sparrows off in order to get a spot on the ring, wow - who knew a bird feeder would be such an intense window into the daily struggles of birds trying to eat in the city!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 5:10PM
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