The northern cardinal is a delightful bird species with striking red plumage, native to North America. These colorful creatures are well-loved and a common sight in backyards, forests, and suburban areas. Their unique appearance and melodic songs captivate bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, making them a popular subject of interest in the world of birdwatching.

In order to better understand these feathered friends, it’s essential to learn about their dietary habits and preferences. Delving into what cardinals eat can not only provide insights into their behavior but also guide us on how to attract these beautiful birds to our own gardens. In this article, we will explore the various types of foods cardinals enjoy, including seeds, fruits, and insects.

What Do Cardinals Eat?

Northern cardinals, known for their vibrant red feathers, are not picky eaters and have diverse diets, consisting of about 70% plant-based food and 30% animal-based food. As omnivorous birds, their diet includes a wide variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects.

When it comes to insects, cardinals consume a variety of small bugs such as beetles, butterflies, crickets, and flies. They have also been known to eat centipedes and worms. These insects provide them with essential proteins for their growth and development.

The plant-based part of their diet majorly consists of nuts, seeds, and grains. Some of their favorites include:

  • Sunflower seeds: Sunflower hearts and black oil sunflower seeds
  • Safflower seeds
  • Cracked corn
  • Various fruits like cherries, mulberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and apples

Cardinals are attracted to food sources like dogwood, sumac, and many other plants with small fruits that grow in their habitat. They also enjoy munching on over three dozen types of weed seeds, making them efficient at controlling unwanted weeds in the environment.

Apart from natural food sources, cardinals are known to visit bird feeders for additional nourishment. Enthusiast birders often provide tube feeders filled with seeds, peanuts, and other cardinal-friendly food options.

In summary, northern cardinals are flexible eaters and will consume any edible food that is small enough to be swallowed. Their diet primarily consists of a mix of insects, seeds, nuts, and fruits, which provide them with the necessary nutrients and energy to thrive in their environment.

What do cardinals eat in the winter?

During the colder winter months, cardinals face food scarcity and must adapt their diet. They typically consume a variety of items, such as:

  • Crop seeds (sunflower, corn, squash)
  • Weed seeds (39 different types)
  • Grains (barley, oat, wheat)
  • Fruits (both wild and human-provided)
  • Tree nuts
  • Small spiders
  • Insects (katydids, flies, crickets)
  • Invertebrates (worms, centipedes, caterpillars)
  • Flowering plants and nectar

Winter poses a challenge to cardinals, as only about 60% of them survive these harsh conditions. This is partly because of limited food availability and increased visibility to predators due to their bright plumage against the snowy landscape.

To improve their chances of survival, cardinals will often frequent bird feeders for additional sustenance. Human-provided birdseed can be crucial to their survival during particularly brutal winters. Birdbaths also offer cardinals a chance to hydrate, supplementing the moisture they acquire from fruits and insects.

Cardinals will cover a wider area in search of food during the winter months, becoming less territorial and sometimes gathering in flocks to protect shared food sources. They may also roost together to conserve body heat during freezing nights. As food becomes more abundant with the arrival of warmer weather, cardinals will regain their territorial behavior.

How Do Cardinals Hunt For Food?

Cardinals, being omnivorous birds, exhibit flexibility in their diets while preferring certain food types. Throughout most of the year, they defend their territory as mating pairs, with males taking the responsibility of providing food for the females and chicks. These birds mainly forage on the ground, utilizing their sharp, hooked beaks to pick up seeds, sprouts, insects, and other creatures. They usually prefer easy-to-hull seeds that are high in fat and protein.

During the height of the mating season, insects and invertebrates become a more significant part of their diet. Baby cardinals especially need more protein-rich food to grow. Cardinals’ habitats often overlap with suburban areas, which means that human gardens can become crucial feeding grounds for them.

Cardinals have a symbiotic relationship with humans, as they assist in germinating seeds and controlling insect populations. Enthusiastic birders set up bird feeders stocked with seeds like safflower, which are particularly attractive to cardinals but tend to be ignored by squirrels and other bird species. Tube feeders, hopper feeders, and platform feeders are examples of cardinal-friendly feeders.

To catch prey effectively, cardinals rely on their observation skills; they often forage for food in native plants and trees, using water sources and shelter sites provided by their habitat. A healthy mix of greenery allows cardinals to thrive, as they are voracious eaters and can be seen feeding from dawn until dusk. Supporting cardinals requires providing their preferred food sources, offering suitable shelter, and ensuring safe habitats that include water resources.

What Animals Eat Cardinals?

Cardinals, both males and females, have a variety of predators due to their bright colors and foraging habits on the ground. Predators vary depending on the region where they live, as cardinal populations are widespread from Canada to Central America.

On the ground, cardinals face threats from different snake species, such as milk snakes, garter snakes, and king snakes. However, the domestic cat poses a significant danger to cardinals and other songbirds since they often hunt even when not hungry, resulting in a significant decline in bird populations. Other mammals that may pose a threat to cardinals include domestic dogs, foxes, squirrels, and chipmunks.

To avoid these ground threats, cardinals often look for brush and trees to escape to while foraging. Still, taking flight doesn’t guarantee their safety, as there are bird predators ready to catch them. Various species of hawks, owls, and eagles will prey on adult cardinals if given the opportunity. Cardinal chicks and eggs are especially vulnerable to predation. Smaller bird species, such as crows and blue jays, have been known to feed on cardinal offspring as well.

In summary, the list of cardinal predators includes:

  • Ground predators:
    • Snakes (milk snakes, garter snakes, king snakes)
    • Mammals (cats, dogs, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks)
  • Aerial predators:
    • Birds of prey (hawks, owls, eagles)
    • Smaller birds (crows, blue jays)

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *