If I were to ask you to think of your favorite winter bird, chances are pretty good that the flashy cardinal would immediately come to mind. There would be good reason for that too, as male cardinals sport a bright red suit with a mysterious black mask and often conspicuously flutter from bush to bush at eye level. Luckily, cardinals are easy to attract to most any property, so their cheerfulness is a gift that can easily be shared.
Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are non-migratory avian inhabitants with a range extending from the eastern US coast, south to Guatemala, and over into the mid-west. Once kept as caged pets, cardinals have a pleasing song and seem to sing, “Cheer, cheer, cheer.” Female cardinals, though less flashy than males, are still beautiful in their own right, being pale brown overall with rosy red air-brushed onto the crest, wings, and tail. Unlike most song bird species, female cardinals sing and have been recorded to belt out a more complex song than their male counterparts.
Northern cardinals are fairly non-specific in choice of diet, which has allowed populations to remain stable in the face of human development. They have a large, orange beak perfectly suited for cracking open seed casings. Putting out black oil sunflower seeds and suet will attract these birds to back-yard feeders year-round. Having trees and shrubs on your property that house insects such as caterpillars will also help attract cardinals. Sufficient cover is important to birds to allow them to hide from air-born predators, such as hawks and owls, and terrestrial predators, such as cats. Make sure that your feeders are high enough off the ground that they prove a difficult jump for stray felines as a way to protect the birds you attract. If you have cats of your own, keep them inside to reduce fatalities. A feeding station that is free from predators will keep more birds coming back and you may be able to observe activity such as courtship rituals if the birds are not on high alert. Low and mid-level cover will also give your back-yard birds day-time protection and over-night roosting locations, and may entice them to nest on your property come spring.
Attracting our local red birds to your yard is fairly simple and their cheerful presence is enjoyably worth it. In one of my favorite children’s books, Red Sings from Treetops, Joyce Sidman says it perfectly:
each note dropping
like a cherry
into my ear.”