How to attract Northern Cardinals using birdfeeders

posted in: Miscellaneous | 4

Birdfeeders are not at all popular in this part of the world. Can it be because they attract the wrong species of birds? Birds that are not colourful and species that are so common that birdwatchers label them as “trash birds”? With the right birdfeeder and food, we may yet attract colourful birds to our urban gardens. And whether these birds are common or rare, there are much we can do to observe their behaviour. After all, we may know the names of a few hundred birds but how much do we know about the habits of sparrows, mynas, crows, etc. that most birdwatchers will not give a second glance?

This guest post on attracting Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) using birdfeeders applies to North America but we in tropical Southeast Asia can learn much from it.

“The beautiful Northern Cardinal is one of the favorites of many birders. The fact is, this beautiful bird not only is vibrant in color but also is also very animated in the way that it moves its head and navigates its world. If you would like to see more of these birds in your area, choose the right elements to add to your garden. Using birdfeeders wisely, for example, is the perfect way to get more birds into your garden.

Locate It Properly
“One of the first mistakes people make is placing birdfeeders for the cardinal too close to people or in an open area. While this may make it easier for you to see the birds, it does not improve your chances of attracting them. In fact, the northern cardinal is very defensive of its territory. Rather, position the birdfeeders near shrubs and trees. These provide the bird some shelter. The bird will watch the birdfeeder for several minutes before even using it. You may even see numerous birds watching the birdfeeder.

Fill It Well
“Next, choose the right mixture of bird food for your birdfeeders. There are several options available to you and none of it has to be very expensive. Consider the following as these are the options northern cardinals like best:

• Black Oil Sunflower
• Seeds from dogwood
• Wild grape
• Grasses
• Hackberry
• Sumac
• Corn

“These birds also eat insects including beetles, leafhoppers, butterflies, moths, flies and others.

Choose the Right Feeder
“Besides being able to provide your birds with the right type of bird food, you also want to consider the right bird feeders based on what the cardinal is interested in. For birdfeeders for the northern cardinal, choose one that is located near or at the ground level or choose one that offers a platform. Platform birdfeeders are often the best choice since this keeps the pests out of the bird food.

“If you find that the cardinals are shy or are unwilling to come to the birdfeeders you have correctly positioned, try to spray a handful of the bird food out over the surrounding area. You do not need much but pull this circle in closer and closer to the feeder each time. That way, you coach them in closer to the bird feeder. Most birds will do this because they are worried about the surrounding area (pets and too much human traffic will deter them.)

“Keep in mind that the Northern Cardinal is one bird you may need to coax a bit to get into your garden but in most cases this is easy enough to do with the right bird food in the right birdfeeders. Once there, these birds will likely remain all year, especially if you keep feeding them.”

Chantelle Simoes
California, USA
24th September 2010


4 Responses

  1. Lovely to have such a vividly coloured bird in your front yard!

    We have at least 15-17 species of birds in suburbia all which will easily come to a feeder (if correct feed is offered) or to a bird bath. It takes a bit of time and patience to coax them in initially but once they feel confortable, it will be a daily affair.

    The thing is the lack of ready made bird feeders on sale in this part of the world. Need a bit of ingenuity and DIY skills to construct one. I, for one, would readily buy a well made one off the shelf if it were available.


  2. I had another adventure with an animal recently. A young male cardinal hit my patio door window{hard …. harder that I had ever heard before} a few Sundays ago. I went out thinking I certainly would see a dead bird there. But he was alive….. on his back convulsing so as to look like a baby crying. I picked him up to hold him as he died, but found that his neck was not broken and he became a little alert. I brought him in the house and got and old sweatshirt to make a little nest in my lap for him and although he was as weak as a dishrag, 20 minutes later he attempted to preen himself a bit. I took this as a sign that he didn’t know how badly he was hurt and that I should keep tending him. Next he pooped blood twice and my heart broke again. But……he seemed to become more and more alert and started looking around to assess his location.

    I got some of my own birds pelleted food, added water to soften it up.

    Then I got out my ‘Marvel Aid’. It’s a vitamin /and broad spectrum anti biotic liquid you give to birds as an only source of water if they appear sick. He took both ravenously (the liquid with an eyedropper and the soft food with a flat dentist tool. …..after having noticed that he quit pooping blood after the 2 times. I held him most of the day thinking he would never survive and that I would have to put him down myself because he was clearly suffering. But then I decided he might need some rest in the dark. So I got a box and put him in with his sweatshirt nest so he could sleep. Later he looked a little better, he had actually had moved away from himself to poop while he was in there. Plus he actually tried to stand up to ‘greet’ me, but immediately fell over on his breast. I therefore named him Perky. Food and Marvel Aid again and back to the box for the night. Just before that though he WAS able to stand without falling over……but then took a step…….fell over. Just a tiny tiny improvement.

    The next morning I prepared everything to be at hand for me to feed him and give him his Marvel Aid, but still fully expected to open that box to find a dead bird. No dead bird. Perky was true to his name looked up and stood at attention. Now, at that point, I was getting really hopeful for him.

    So for a week, it was food, marvel aid, a little walking(each time he was able to go a little further without falling over), and back to the box. He NEVER protested going into that dark box. I kept it clean and changed sweatshirt and old tshirt nests in there for him. He was improving with each feeding and I was amazed. I got in touch with a re-habber(who informed me I was technically breaking the law) I didn’t care. She said at this point I had to get him some protein[more than what’s in my birds pelleted diet], so she sent me out for meal worms. O man….did he go for those. And his improvement seemed to escalate …yay! Also she said he should be acclimated away from the box and to a cage. That was hard at first but, he managed to relax in a cage top placed on a towel.

    Day by day I started offering him the seeds my outdoor cardinals eat/from my hand and then on a towel on the coffee table with the cage top over him. He just was amazing me ten times a day. On the floor he would run from me and seek a hiding place, but when in my hands, he was not fearful at all.(he knew where his food was coming from like any good animal would) He would try to fly also, and plop on the ground which worried me, but a wild animal will do what it will do. All his behaviors seemed to point towards him going ‘home’ to the outdoors in time.

    Next we put him on the deck with the cage top over him food, water, a little perch for a few hours, late afternoons. This was for him to remember the wild and not just be tossed out there suddenly. No cardinals got close but one female did stare at him in there once from just inches away(his mom?). One night an hour before dusk just when we were about to bring him back inside….. right out there on the deck was our local fox staring at him too. YIKES!!…..we shooed him away and told him to help himself to any chipmunks he might see. I had never seen the fox on the deck before, but my husband had……eating bird food. We think he noticed the caged cardinal by accident, but left alone I figure he would have tipped over that cage and had my Perky bird for dinner. Or he may have spotted the thing from the treeline and came for him on purpose. We won’t ever know for sure.

    By the 11th day his flight was really improving, but navigation was not so good. We planned that on Sunday morning he would be ready. So I really loaded him up with worms and the Marvel Aid based to bolster him up. That way he could acclimate before becoming weak. We were right. Sunday morning(the14th day), he actually navigated a flight under my bird’s cage avoiding the crossbars he had hit the previous day. He was now really wanting to escape me when not held, and though a little scruffy looking, It was his time to be free. He held the left wing down a little lower than the right & his left leg was still a little weak, but we perched him on a branch with a view of the house and he flew away pretty quickly…….keeping low. He had not shown a lot of lift during flight in the house, but did not need much so I thought that he would only re-learn that skill in his own world.

    I have many cardinal families that come to my deck. I searched them for days trying to recognize him. No dice. Then on Thursday morning amongst the groups I saw a little scruffy male youth..alone….behaving terrifically normally and once he turned away from me, I saw that the little left leg was held out at the tiniest of angles with a nearly unnoticeable limpy hop…….IT WAS HIM…there was no doubt!!!! I don’t think I will ever have an opportunity to be SURE that I am looking at him like that again, but that is alright. His beak will soon turn orange and he is going to be as OK as I could ever hope.

  3. Wow! Do you have any photos of the injured bird? So that we can formally post it in the blog?


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