The Cardinal Bird Feeder – What Works Best?

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The intention of a cardinal bird feeder, of course, would be to attract the cardinal. This bird, of course, is probably the single most popular bird for backyard bird watchers. However, to the dismay of many, there really is no cardinal feeder per se. But, the bird certainly has both feeder and seed preferences. Let's take a look!

First, what does not work that well.

The tube feeder is quite popular. However, do not make the mistake of thinking it a favorite of the cardinal. I've been watching birds for years and years and I can tell you with complete certyty that this is not your best choice for the cardinal. He has virtually no neck and is forced to turn his whole body sideways to eat from a tube. In addition, he's just a smidgen too big for most perches.

Some people will advise you to add a tray to the bottom. Granted, you will see the bird more often if you do this. Just keep in mind that Droll Yankees trays fit Droll Yankees tube feeders; Aspects trays fit Aspects tube feeders; Bird Quest trays fit Bird Quest tube feeders.

Do you know which brand you have?

Also, keep in mind that trays attract lots of other birds like grackles and starlings. If these birds visit your tube feeder, you will not see many cardinals (or any other birds for that matter). Keep in mind the purpose of a tube feeder is to provide for small birds like the tufted titmouse and Carolina chickadee.

Add a tray, in come the medium and large birds, away go the small birds-just like that, you've defeated the purpose of the tube.

So what does work?

A proper cardinal bird feeder is any feeder whose design accommodates the cardinal's preference to "bend at the hip" or not at all when feeding. You want a feeder that does not force the bird to turn its body. A basic hopper feeder is a great choice as a cardinal bird feeder. So is any fly-through bird feeder (a fly-through feeder is open on all sides and has ample space). Also, platform feeders on the ground are ideal cardinal feeders.

There are manufacturers of feeders who describe their product as "cardinal feeder." The no-no is one such example. Although this feeder does accomodate the cardinal, be careful! Many bird feeders do not do what the manufacturer claims.

The Droll Yankees squirrel proof feeder called the whipper is designed to be a cardinal feeder. The curved perch is a fantastic innovation that accommodates the bird perfectly. The Brome Care "squirrel buster" squirrel proof feeder, with its detachable ring, also serves the bird, although the bird does not appear as comfortable on this feeder as it does on the whipper (make no mistake, though, the Brome Care Product is equal and even superior to the Droll Yankees product in many ways).


What seed should you feed the cardinal? Hands down, safflower. This is a bitter tasting seed that squirrels, grackles and starlings tend not to eat.

If you do not have these pests floating around, any quality bird seed will do. Black oil sunflower seed and sunflower hearts (chips) are favorites of the cardinal. He'll eat most blends, too but do not use big box blends – they're full of filler that birds do not eat.

I've seen cardinals eat fruit – you'll need a fruit feeder for this.

So, what is my favorite cardinal bird feeder?

You know, my advise to bird watchers desiring to attract cardinals to "get back to basics." I recommend either a wooden hopper feeder or a fly-through platform feeder serve as their cardinal bird feeder.

If you follow this advise and are patient, I promise that you'll be visited by this beautiful bird year round!

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