Skip to Content

What To Feed Cardinals In The Winter – The Best Bird Seeds & Feed To Attract Cardinals

Looking for the best bird seeds to feed and attract cardinals to your property this winter and beyond? 

Cardinals are one of the most popular birds for homeowners to feed throughout the long winter months. With the male’s vibrant crimson coloring and the female’s muted red feathering, they are definitely a welcoming sight of brightness in an otherwise bleak landscape.

Unlike most songbird species, cardinals do not migrate south during the winter. Instead, they seek shelter in shrubs and evergreen trees, feeding on nuts, weed seeds, and wild berries. Unfortunately, many of those food sources become a bit difficult to forage in colder months. Which is exactly where feeding them can play huge role in helping them to survive!

A male and female cardinal sitting on the branch of a pine tree with snow falling around them.
While male cardinals tend to steal the show with their bright red feathers, females have a natural beauty that can be just as beautiful in the winter landscape.

Cardinals burn a lot of energy while they forage for food during the day. But during the winter, they need even more calories to help them stay warm and alive when the temperatures drop – especially during the night time hours. 

Without many options for natural food sources, these songbirds can run into big trouble during the winter months. But by helping to provide them with their favorite high-calorie foods, you can enjoy watching them from the comfort of your home – all while helping to keep them alive and thriving. 

What To Feed Cardinals

While most birdseed mixes might attract a few cardinals here and there to your feeder, there are a few items that will really draw them to your property. In fact, if the feeding options are to their liking, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen or more cardinals around a single feeder!

The key to successfully feeding cardinals all revolves around supplying them with seeds that both the males and females enjoy – and that give them big energy. This will not only help cardinals survive, but actually thrive throughout the entire winter season by providing them with plenty of calories and the energy they need.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds 

Cardinals love all types of sunflower seeds. However, black oil sunflower seeds have a much higher oil content than typically striped sunflower seeds. And by adding black oil seeds to their mix, it results in a feed that is full of calories and nutrients. 

A male cardinal on a feeder with black sunflower seeds.
Cardinals enjoy all types of sunflower seeds, but black oil seeds will provide them with the most fat that they need during the winter months.

The high-fat seeds help to provide cardinals and other birds with the nutrition needed to stay nice and warm in the cold. Other birds like chickadees, finches, jays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers also enjoy snacking on black oil sunflower seeds. (See, “Feeding Chickadees In The Winter”)

The shells of black oil sunflower seeds are thinner and easier for even small birds to crack open than striped sunflower seeds. And, once they do open them, the birds are rewarded with large seeds, resulting in more food for their efforts. Affiliate Seed Link: Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Safflower Seeds 

Another popular choice for feeding cardinals in the winder is safflower seeds. Safflower is a thistle-like annual that is commonly harvested commercially for vegetable oil. However, the 15 to 20 seeds you get per bloom are also perfect for feeding to cardinals. 

In general, safflower seeds are a little less messy than sunflower seeds, resulting in fewer shells left behind by the birds. In fact, the husks usually blow away or simply decompose after so long. 

Like sunflower seeds, safflower seeds are high in fiber, proteins, and carbohydrates. They too help to provide plenty of calories and energy to hungry cardinals. Birds such as chickadees, doves, and grosbeaks also enjoy safflowers since they have larger beaks to break open the shells. 

Listen To Our Podcast Below On Feeding Birds & How To Help Them Survive Winter!

A great bonus for adding safflowers to your cardinal bird feed mix is that chipmunks and squirrels don’t typically enjoy the seeds and will often move on to other food sources when on the hunt for food. Affiliate Seed Link: Wagner’s Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food

Suet Treats 

Suet is another great option for providing cardinals with high calories and fat during the winter months. It is essentially animal fat, often beef, that has been rendered down and formed into blocks. 

Often combined with seeds, fruit, and nuts, it is a perfect nutritionally dense food source for hungry birds. The high-fat content of suet helps to heat the birds up and keep them alive during the cold winter weather. 

You can create your own homemade suet blocks or you can purchase pre-made blocks from stores or online. Making your own is a great way to control what items are added to help specifically attract cardinals. (Affiliate Product Link: Blue Seal High Energy Suet Cakes)

Shelled Whole Or Crushed Peanuts – What To Feed Cardinals In The Winter

In addition to sunflowers, safflowers, and suet, cardinals also enjoy consuming peanuts. Peanuts are another high-fat food that can be critical for keeping cardinals warm and well-fed during the winter months. In addition to fats, peanuts also provide cardinals with fiber, calcium, potassium, and other vital nutrients. 

A male bird with a whole peanut in its beak while it stands in the snow.
Cardinals can break open whole peanuts to get the seed inside, but it is easier for them to have pre-shelled peanuts available.

While larger birds like bluejays and woodpeckers enjoy peanuts in the shells, it’s best to provide cardinals with shelled peanuts. The peanuts can be whole or crushed. Just ensure that you use raw peanuts that are not been roasted, salted, or flavored in any way. 

You can even occasionally provide them with a tasty treat of all-natural peanut butter as a fun alternative. Coating pine cones in peanut butter can be a fun winter activity for families to make with their kids. 

Other Tips For Feeding Cardinals – What To Feed Cardinals In The Winter

Other great options for feeding cardinals include cracked corn and dried berries. Cracked corn is high in protein and dried berries provide cardinals with an excellent source of nutrients. 

You can easily create your own birdseed mix using the items mentioned above. Or, you can purchase bird feed mixes specifically made to attract cardinals. (Affiliate Product Link: Wagner’s Cardinal Blend

Cardinals typically feed early in the morning and right before sunset. The morning allows the birds to replace all the energy they used up overnight. Feeding right before sunset allows the cardinals to build up calories to keep them warm when the temperatures fall overnight.

Several cardinals and small birds on a large feeder.
Platform feeders are the best option for cardinals, but they also aren’t against feeding from underneath a feeder either. Toss a little seed under the feeder when you go to refill it.

Platform feeders work best for cardinals since they are front feeders. You can also use tube feeders as well as long as there is a place for the birds to land while enjoying a bite to eat. 

Whatever feeder you use, keep it consistently full. Cardinals will start to visit your feeder regularly as long as a good food source is provided. In addition, the birds will start to rely on the feed to help get them through the winter, so try to always have feed on hand. 

By providing these high-calorie foods that cardinals love, you can enjoy watching these colorful birds visit your property all winter long – and help them survive the cold in the process!

Simple Garden Life  

Simple Garden Life is a website dedicated to keeping gardening fun, simple and enjoyable! We publish two new articles each week along with a new garden podcast episode every two weeks. This article may contain affiliate links.