What to plant for cardinals?

christie_sw_mo(Z6)November 14, 2002

I've been planting lots of shrubs with berries for the birds but cardinals are seed eaters right? What is your favorite to attract cardinals? If I plant perennials or grasses for them do they perch on the perennials or eat the seeds off the ground after they fall?

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Dorie_in_Alabama(7a)

Cardinals feed on a wide variety of plants and insects. Have fun planting lots of great things.

Here is a link that might be useful: cardinals

    Bookmark   November 14, 2002 at 4:10PM
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richardzone7maryland(7b)

Nice link for the cardinals, I learned that cardinals will eat corn and pokeberries. The cardinals don't seem to like to eat the corn and pokeberries in my yard, but that's probably because they prefer sunflower seed. If the sunflower seed runs out maybe they will eat the corn and pokeberries.

Richard

    Bookmark   November 14, 2002 at 4:39PM
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christie_sw_mo(Z6)

Thank you for the link Dorie. It doesn't mention specific perennials really but I I think I've got the poke berries, poison ivy and elm buds taken care of. lol I feed sunflower seed from my feeders but I can't remember seeing any landing on my sunflowers the way the finches do. I'm wondering about the corn. Would it be alright to use the same kind of corn they sell for squirrel food or should it be cracked corn. Any suggestions for perennials or shrubs to plant for the cardinals?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2002 at 10:57AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

Hi,
I know this isn't a shrub or perennial.....and it would take years to grow, but my cardinals really love the seeds from our tulip trees. They seem to eat them more than any other bird. I would definitely get cracked corn.....then there's always sunflowers. You can grow tons of them in the summer, and then just hang the dried heads up for the birds...

    Bookmark   November 15, 2002 at 11:16AM
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trudy_gw

We saw a female cardinal feasting on berries from a Wentworth Viburnum today. I to was surprised to see cardinals eating berries, had no idea . She munched down 4 to 5 berries in a few minutes. It was a beautiful site, the red berries and the color of the female cardinal.
We will be planting more berry bushes in the future. By the way, just filled the sunflower feeder this morning and it is on the deck right next to the bush, so it seems they don't wait until the seeds are gone before they eat the berries.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2002 at 6:55PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

I am trying to get the Cardinals to try the homemade suet by putting some on the flat roof of the sunflowers seed feeder and sprinkleing sunflower seed around it. So far all I have is a crazy mockingbird that wants no one near his suet!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2002 at 3:35PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

When I lived in town, I'd see cardinals eating holly berries from my huge Burford holly, a type of Chinese holly, and I think I remember them eating pyracantha berries, those that the squirrels left. In the country, I occasionally see them eating yaupon berries, another type of holly. Winter is the only time they'll eat sunflower seeds from my feeder, but they eat a fair amount of them when the weather is really cold.
I've also seen them eating viburnum berries, mine being v. dentatum.
Sherry

    Bookmark   December 1, 2002 at 11:03AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I forgot about dogwood berries. They eat those, too.
Sherry

    Bookmark   December 1, 2002 at 11:07AM
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christie_sw_mo(Z6)

That's good news Sherry. I had read that they were seed eaters so I thought the berry bushes that I'm planting wouldn't attract them. I'm glad to hear they like berries too.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2002 at 4:53PM
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pondwelr(z5 WI)

They prefer sunflower seeds, so save room for planting some seeds. During the nesting season, the young are fed on soft-bodied insects.
The courting couples nest as often as five times a year, with some of the nests failing to produce offspring.
I have many berried type bushes in my yard, and there are also several types around the subdivision pond. Somehow all the berries get eaten. I cant say the cardinals eat most, or even alot, because there are many, many birds here.
I have feeders for the ones that stay around. Most get clustered in a spot on my patio that is near many shrubs and evergreens, so they can hide and shelter.
If you plant for birds, you'll get all kinds. Some may not even be welcome, but they will come.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2002 at 4:59PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

It's me again. I keep remembering fruit I've seen cardinals eat. When I lived in town, I only had one wild black cherry, prunus serotina, and the cardinals would start checking those little cherries out for ripeness in spring. It was funny to watch them perched on a limb, cocking their heads around to where the cherries were. They really gobbled them up in June, when they ripened. I don't pay any attention to the cherries or who eats them any more, because I have a woods full of them, and every June there are JILLIONS of those little fruits for the birds to enjoy.
What with being a host plant for tiger swallowtails and red-spotted purples, plus making all those fruits for birds and squirrels, prunus serotina is one of the best all-round wildlife plants.
Sherry

    Bookmark   December 1, 2002 at 7:31PM
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Elaine_NJ6

Cardinals also eat insects. Once I saw a female swoop right onto a window and grab and devour a huge praying mantis that was resting on the glass.

There are lots of cardinals around right now. I think like most successful animals they are opportunists, willing to eat whatever is available.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2002 at 3:41PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Yes, I feel sure that the reason cardinals are increasing in number and expanding their range is because of their extremely versatile diet. When they eat insects, they usually eat what is in the largest numbers, which makes foraging for food easier for them, plus helps keep any one type of insect from getting out of control population wise.
They mostly feed their nestlings soft bodied insects, but I once saw a female cardinal feeding nestlings holly berries. It was a REAL early nest, in late winter, too early, and there weren't enough insects yet. It bothered me, because I didn't think holly berries would give the nestlings enough protein. I have also seen cardinal parents feeding their nestlings these round white things that I didn't know what were. They had made their nest in an azalea right under a window. I kept watching them outside, and when we had a big rain one day, the crickets or grasshoppers all perched on the top of some weeds in the grass. The cardinals picked them off, one by one, tore off their legs and the hard outer coating of their bodies, and the round white things that were left were what they fed their babies.
Bird watching is always interesting!
Sherry

    Bookmark   December 6, 2002 at 11:26PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

What bothers me is that the Cardinals always seem to let the other Birds bully them. I just want to get out there and yell at them to stand up for themselves. They will come to the feeder, or fly down to were the seed is scattered on the ground but will be the first to fly off as soon as the sparrows arrive. This in spite of the fact that there is plenty of room for them.

Christe-- Like you, I have been planting lots of bird attracting shrubs with berries at different times of the year so I just hope that the future, when all these things get big enough to fruit (some are already) just make it more attractive around here and easier for the Cardinals to find food. I do have many Cardinals around here always so they must like something around here.

I also noticed that my little ponds and birdbath with fountain really attracted birds when I added them last year.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2003 at 2:43PM
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stimpy926

Burning bush has been put on the invasive list this year, but the cardinals devoured all the berries on the 2 mature ones I have. I have plenty of sunflower oilers for them in feeders, and on the ground, but they went for the bushes. Perhaps because of better protection.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2003 at 7:06PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

They (the Cardinals here) like to sit in a very shrubby dogwood tree on the side of my property. That tree is the anchor in the area that I intend to make into a bird attracting berry producing shrub border. I think they feel more secure in the shrubs and thickets.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2003 at 7:42PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Well, one of the female Cardinals looks like she is nesting. Carrying dried grasses in her beak for the past few days. It seems too early for Cardinals to be nesting to me but I don't see why else she would be flying around with dried grasses.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2003 at 8:30PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Believe me, it's not too early for cardinals. They start nesting at the first hint of spring!
Sherry

    Bookmark   April 18, 2003 at 9:28PM
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Aurore(Zone 4/5 NY)

I'm not familiar with what they eat, but have had them nest around here and they seem to prefer pine trees. Nested in the spruce next door. Also think I've seen them nesting in other pine trees. A few pine trees might be good if you're trying to create a habitat.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2003 at 10:55AM
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Elaine_NJ6

Cardinals line up for serviceberries when they ripen. They seem to eat just about everything else besides--probably why they're so successful. They eat fruit but also seeds and insects--I once saw a female swoop down and grab a full-size praying mantis in late summer. I do not put up feeders, but I have extensive native plantings of trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers, and I have cardinals around all year.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2003 at 6:05PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

The Cardinals seem to be eating the same old feed from the feeders that they always have but since I have started really getting into doing the yard to attract the birds, they seem to be hanging out here even more than ever.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2003 at 8:15PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

I have lots of Cardinals around here and see them everyday. I figgured I'd see them eating or checking out the Serviceberries when they had berries but not once did I catch a Cardinal on one of the shrubs. The Catbirds were another story, as they ate berries all day long.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2003 at 12:36PM
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MeMyselfAndI(5/6 central OH)

When the cardinals come into my yard, they usually go straight to the compost pile. Lots of ants, pill bugs, centipedes, worms, etc... in there.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2003 at 9:24PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Gee I did not know that they enjoyed insects so much...
The plants I have always had success with with cardinals in winter are the Glauca (formerly Rubrifolia) rose tree (= the "blue-ish" leave rose!), the Highbush cranberry tree (both of these plants for the berries [and/or seeds they contain?]), as well as the White Ash (seeds) when a male and female plants of this species are growing nearby (for seed production). Here in South-Western Quebec, the cardinal is a regular in White Ashes.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2003 at 11:13AM
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MeMyselfAndI(5/6 central OH)

Hmm, roseunhip... I just assumed all birds loved to eat insects. Your comment inspired me to do a google search on cardinal diets.

Found this info:

"Typical habitats are thickets and brushy areas, edges and clearings, riparian woodlands, parks, and residential areas. Here the nonmigratory cardinals feed on a variety of foods including seeds, leaf buds, flowers, berries, and fruit. Up to one-third of its summer diet can be insects. Its winter diet is 90 percent vegetable matter, especially large seeds."

...at this site, which is Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Unfortunately, I don't (yet) have much of winter interest for them in the way of shrubs. So many choices and so little space - it's too hard to decide!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2003 at 1:20PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

If you have only one pick for winter bird "natural" food and little space (which would then exclude the crabapple trees and hawthorns), you have to go for the WENTWORTH Highbush cranberry tree, which is a smaller variety (8-9 feet tall) but apparently bears more fruit than the typical species.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2003 at 8:26AM
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Kathy_in_Kansas(z5 NEast KS)

I wanted to add that Cardinals really like fresh grapes. I don't have a grapevine planted, but I put a bunch of green or red grapes in a suet feeder (that I've stretched out a bit to accomodate the bunch of grapes), and hang it from a tree branch. Not only do Cardinals love the grapes, they are also enjoyed by Baltimore and Orchard orioles, robins, red-bellied woodpeckers, cat birds, house finches and purple finches. Just be sure to rinse the grapes thoroughly before putting them out for the birds.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2003 at 1:03PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Hummm.... I have a grape vine that has been producing grapes for the past three years and have never noticed any of the birds trying them. The vine makes lots, so I would not mind sharing!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2003 at 3:32PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

So, I saw a female Cardinal eating berries off my Illinios Everbearing Mulbery tree the other day. First time I had ever seen any Cardinals eating any of the berries in my yard. Surprised that they didn't try the Serviceberries when they had fruit.

I tried the fruit off some of the wild mulberries that grow around here and the fruit of my Illinois Everbearing is deffinately much sweeter.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2003 at 11:35AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Well, I have discovered that the Cardinals around here love to eat the seeds off the Buckwheat plants. They have fledglings so the whole family comes around many times each day and dives in there. I can see them picking the seeds off the plants and eating them.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2003 at 12:55PM
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richardzone7maryland(7b)

If you watch them long enough you learn that cardinals have a very diverse diet as this thread illustrates. Yesterday I spotted a young cardinal eating leaves off the serviceberry tree in my yard. The berries are long gone so it decided to eat the leaves instead.

Richard

    Bookmark   September 3, 2003 at 1:57PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Often young birds will peck at random objects that do not seem to have any possible nutritional value for them. Unless I am wrong and birds can actually digest leaves... I have seen waxwings eat cherry flower petals... But leaves?? I would tend to think this is more "accidental" than actually "functional" diet...

    Bookmark   September 3, 2003 at 5:56PM
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cub_de(7 DE)

This spring we had 5 male cardinal and 4 female cardinals visiting our bird feeder. They particularly like Choice from Wild Bird Stores. However I also know they nest in low bushy areas. They also like nesting in Holly trees and bushes--so maybe they like the holly berries. Unfortunately they nest rather low which makes them vulnerable to cats and other predators.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2003 at 12:12PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Right, planting could be for NESTING, I hadn't considered this thread from that perspective!
My own experience with cardinals is that they are very fond for nesting of deep, thick cedar hedges of at least 5 or 6 feet high. As a rule of thumb here, near human dwellings, they like bushy, ornemental evergreens.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2003 at 1:24PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

I don't know that I'd say plant this just for Cardinals but I was watching a Cardinal eating the fruits of a Kousa Dogwood in the backyard afew minutes ago. At first I thought that it must be doing something else as the fruits are just ripening now and they are too big for a bird eating whole. But it was pecking at the fruit and biting off pieces. I could see it pecking at the fruit and then I could see its beak moving as it ate pieces off the fruit. Last year all I noticed eating Kousa was the Squirrells.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2003 at 3:51PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Cardinals here have been eating the pokeweed berries for the past few days. That got me thinking that I have been working hard and buying all sorts of berry producing shrubs for the berry eating birds and the pokeweeds are free. They grow almost by magic and I see many different types of birds eating them.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2003 at 3:41PM
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stephenNJ(z6NJ)

I leave a wild area that has been taken over by pokeberry for the birds that seem to appreciate it.Mockers like them too.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2003 at 9:56PM
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Tommyc(Mich 5-6)

Sunflowers, and more sunflowers.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2003 at 2:06AM
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stella36(z7NY)

The Cardinals in my yard share the seeds that drop from the feeders to the ground with the sparrows. I have also seen them eating Mimosa seed, guess thats the reason there are millions of mimosa seedlings growing in my yard.
Stella

    Bookmark   December 31, 2003 at 7:18PM
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dirtboy58(Zone 7 MD)

Hi all!

You just keep planting those trees and shrubs so those beautiful bashful Cardinals will eventually and finally make it to Denver!

Paul

    Bookmark   January 2, 2004 at 11:34PM
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vonyon

I think that birds like all the plants we consider to be weeds. I have seen poison ivy, pokeweed, bittersweet, etc. on lists for various species. They certainly are opportunists.

Most do change what they eat throughout the season. I had read somewhere that birds change to a berry eating diet just before the winter (probably to store some fat from the high-sugar content). I know from personal experience that the bluebirds I had in my yard who once gobbled up hundreds of mealworms at a sitting will turn up their beaks at them when the berries come in.

I find most of the vividly colored birds (with the exception of bluejays) to be timid and prefer dense cover. I have watched cardinals stay within the red branches of a shrub dogwood for most of the winter. I often wonder if they know that it is the perfect color to make them difficult to spot. It also leads me to believe that they love the dogwood berries.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2004 at 8:12AM
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lisa_in_pa(z6 PA)

Poison ivy berries-now there is a popular food item for many birds! But I won't be planting any in my yard.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2004 at 8:45AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

The Cardinals in my back yard must be pairing up for nesting season. A male is always singing and chattering to his mate and follows her around. The other day it really looked like he was trying to get her interested in the large boxwood shrub we have here as a nest sight.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2004 at 9:18PM
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Wizard_of_Noz(Z4 WI)

I'm beginning to think a posting of what Cardinals WON'T eat would be much shorter! I'm impressed, many things I had not considered on here.

Kathy, when you say suet feeder, are you referring to net bags? Interesting such a variety would cling to a bag if so. I'll have to try that here. Probably just end up with one more thing for Starlings though

Thanks for all the great ideas everyone!

Robin

    Bookmark   April 6, 2004 at 9:49PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

The Cardinals did build a nest in my boxwood shrub and it was interesting watching the goings on. Eggs have now hatched and I watch them bring bugs to the nest.

I have a pair of Chicadees nesting about 40 feet from the Cardinals in a birdhouse I put up in the shrub boarder. So its interesting watching the birds here.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2004 at 12:14PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Saw the Cardinals eating Blueberries off the Blueberry Shrubs the other day.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2004 at 8:28PM
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alan_(s central pa)

Can you propagate pokeberry?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2004 at 9:22PM
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pegasus(5)

Caution on the pokeberries. One of those plants that is much harder NOT to grow (at least here in PA) than to grow.

Very invasive, very large, too gawky to be half attractive (the berries are a pretty blue, though,) they do stain, I think they are poisonous, and one of my friends told me that in her childhood they called them 'stinkweed.' (Never stopped to smell one.)

That said, if you still want them go for it, they might be an improvement over poison ivy. Hmm...seems like damning with faint praise to me.

I've been ripping them out for a few years but would be willing to send you seed if I find any I missed...all of it, come to think of it.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2004 at 11:22PM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

I have seen Cardinals, Blue Jays, Mockingbirds and Catbirds all eating berries off my Pokeweed Plants so I know the birds like them. They do have a tendency to strout anywere there is some disturbed soil for the seeds to get started.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2004 at 1:29PM
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Linda_8B

I put some ripe Sorghum branches on the back fence and today a whole flock of cardinals took turns going for it. I wouldn't normally grow Sorghum, but a friend gave me plants and said birds love it later when it's ripe. She was right!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2004 at 5:09PM
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Jenney

Found some good pictures of it at the following link. Wonder where to get it...

Here is a link that might be useful: Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)

    Bookmark   November 20, 2004 at 10:28PM
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brenda_near_eno(Z7a)

A cardinal has taken to throwing himself against my window. Windows are NOT clean (=invisible), and he will continually hit same spot. I opened window, and he flew in! I scooped him up easily and put him out, and he went right back to same spot. Anyboby else seen this or have suggestion?

    Bookmark   November 24, 2004 at 6:18AM
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vonyon

Brenda: I have heard this about bluebirds. I think it was explained as a territorial thing. I think the idea is that he is seeing a reflection. This doesn't make sense to me at this time of year though. This time of year there are fermented berries that birds are eating. You do hear of them getting "drunk" and flying into windows. You might want to post this on the bluebird forum. People have given ideas about how to handle this, but I can't recall how.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2004 at 6:36AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

Well, hopefully the Cardinals will be able to feast here as many more of my shrubs should set fruit this year compaired to past years. I noticed that the Cardinals do not seem to be big fruit eaters like the Mockingbirds and Catbirds, which just can't get enough of the summer berries around here!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2005 at 12:06PM
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richardzone7maryland(7b)

I was surprised to see a cardinal eating mulberries last summer.

Richard

    Bookmark   April 27, 2005 at 12:20PM
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chrsvic(z6 OH)

I've had cardinals eat rugosa rose hips, highbush cranberries, and crabapples. Some of the fruits they may just be after the pits or seeds, rather than the fruit. If you have thick shrubbery you may get them to nest.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2005 at 3:11PM
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