What do Cardinals Eat?

What do cardinals eat? You’re probably asking this question if you’re looking to attract these majestic birds into your yard. While cardinals, also called redbirds, are not picky eaters, there are factors to consider if you want them to visit you anytime soon. Read on to know how to attract these cardinals with their favorite food best.

70% of a cardinal’s diet consists of seeds, grains, fruits, and greens, while 30% is insects. While their feeding habits tend to stay consistent, it changes during the winter as most birds do. Of course, they are still prey animals, so if animals that want to hurt them are abundant in your area, they may be more shy than usual.

What Does A Cardinal Like To Eat


Cardinals, especially Northern cardinals, never have to travel far for food because they dwell and forage in suburbia, small towns, forests, marshes, or farmland. Serviceberries, mulberries, crabapples, elderberries, and other wild fruits are eaten right from the bush or tree by these songbirds. Cardinals eat even the fruit of the poison ivy plant. Most common fruits, such as raspberries, raisins, strawberries, grapes, blueberries, apples, blackberries, and cherries, are eaten by Cardinals, either fresh or dehydrated in a pre-made feed mix.


Cardinals hop and feed on the ground, looking for seeds in shrubs and bushes. They use their beaks to shatter the seeds apart and swallow the kernel whole when they find some. Cardinals don’t discriminate when it comes to seeds, eating safflower, squash, and sunflower seeds. Safflower seeds with thick shells are a big favorite, and store-bought mixes often include a large proportion of this seed. On the other hand, boxelder seeds, muskmelon seeds, and ragweed seeds are some of the lesser-known seeds that cardinals love. These little seeds are packed with nutrition to keep cardinals going on their journeys.


In homemade or store-bought suet balls, you’ll find sunflower seeds, peanut pieces, maize meal, organic peanut butter, and other ingredients specifically designed for cardinals or other bird species. These voracious birds eat oats, buckwheat, millets, maple sap, and bread crumbs. They’ll consume cracked corn, just like many other wild birds. More so, corn kernels that have been dried and cracked are high in protein and fiber.


Insect diets are as tasty to common redbirds as fruit and seed diets. Cardinals help farmers and gardeners by eating pests that damage plants, such as aphids, grasshoppers, slugs, snails, cotton cutworms, and bollworms. Insects frequently approach cardinals, allowing the birds to save time on their flight.

During the summer, the indigo bunting and scarlet tanager, both migratory members of the Cardinalidae family, eat mostly insects and hunt bugs. The rose-breasted grosbeak, another migratory member of the cardinal family, feeds on berries while migrating and sawflies, ants, bees, and moths while nesting.

What Do Baby Cardinals Eat

Northern cardinals eat 75 percent of their food as plant material for most of the year. Still, they supplement their diet with insects during the summer breeding season.  They will also go after bugs to provide food for their nestlings. Cardinal parents nearly entirely feed their young with insects, which supply the protein needed for nestlings to gain muscle. 

Baby cardinals eat soft-bodied invertebrates like caterpillars while they are young. In your garden, you should include butterfly host plants like dill, fennel, hollyhock, mustard greens, and snapdragon to attract Northern Cardinals and assist tired parents.

What Do Cardinals Survive In The Winter

Cardinals get their water from snow, fruits, and insects they eat because other water sources may be frozen over in the winter. Get a birdbath with a heater to ensure that cardinals have access to clean water. Add a de-icer to your birdbath if you already have one. Cardinals are more visible to dogs, wolves, and other predators in the winter, thus traveling in flocks to protect themselves. While foraging for food, Cardinals can hide from predators by nesting in the warmth of large evergreens and other deciduous trees.

Thanks to human-maintained birdbaths and bird feeders, these non-migratory birds can eat healthily and survive the cold, harsh winters.

What Eats Cardinals?

Domestic cats, dogs, hawks, squirrels, owls, and other birds consume adult northern cardinals, nestlings, or eggs. Cardinal eggs are also taken from the nest by brown-headed cowbirds, who devour them occasionally. When these predators approach a cardinal nest, cardinals cry with a chipping alarm sound, and they will also fly towards predators in an attempt to chase them away.

Attracting Cardinals To Your Yard

These lovely redbirds are a pleasant sight in yards year-round, as well as the stars of many greeting cards and wildlife drawings. Cardinals can live for 13-15 years with the support of a lifelong mate, food and water from loving humans, and a fertile home ground with an abundance of insects and other natural food.  To increase their chances of them visiting your yard, keep house cats, owls, and other predators away from them.

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