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What do Cardinals Eat?

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Cardinals are beloved visitors in the back yards of all bird lovers in North and South America.

These birds are also known as cardinal grosbeaks or cardinal buntings. Female cardinals can seem a bit dull with only a bit of red on her head and wings but the males are a vibrant red and a lovely sight to behold.

Many homeowners love to lure cardinals to their homes with back feeders and these bird species are also often kept as pets in backyard bird cages or bird parks.

It is important to offer the right type of feed to these birds if you are keeping them as pets or if you want to lure them to your backyard for observation.

What do cardinals eat?

Cardinals are seed-eating birds but they will also choose to eat insects and fruits. The fact that cardinals can consume both plant and animal life means that they are omnivorous bird species.

The average cardinal diet consists of about 30% insect species and 70% of plant foods like fruits, grains, seeds, and greens.

Like all other omnivores, the diet of these birds can be quite diverse. They will consume a great variety of food types to supplement their diet.

Here is a quick look at foods that cardinals love to consume;


In the wild, cardinals will catch and consume a variety of insect species. Young cardinals especially love to consume bugs and they are often seen hovering about lawns to scout for insects.

They love to catch and eat ants, sawflies, moths, butterflies, beetles, flies, cicadas, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, treehoppers, plant lice, scale insects, termites, grasshoppers, locusts, dragonflies, snails, earthworms, spiders, caterpillars, and many other small insect species.


Cardinals love to consume seeds. This is one of their main food supplies and many bird watchers use seed birdfeeders to lure cardinals to their gardens.

These medium-sized birds enjoy large seeds like safflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, white milo seeds, crushed peanuts, cracked corn, suet and more. Although cardinals prefer to consume large seed types, they will also feed on small seeds found in canary seed mixes.


Cardinals love to consume a variety of fruit types. They are quite fond of berry types like serviceberries, mulberries, crabapples, elderberries and can even consume fruit from poison ivy plants. These birds will also consume fruits found in everyday grocery stores like raspberries, raisins, strawberries, grapes, blueberries, apples, blackberries, cherries, and more.

Cardinals love fresh foods but also enjoy eating dried fruit types.


Cardinals, like all other bird species, enjoy drinking fresh water. They also enjoy an occasional swim and can be attracted by shallow birdbaths. It is very important to offer lots of freshwaters if you are keeping cardinals as pets.


Adult cardinals are happy to consume greens. They will eat grasses, tree buds, chopped greens, alfalfa sprouts, and more. Cardinals may even choose to consume various leafy greens like salad and others. Baby cardinals may also consume small amounts of greens. Typically, these birds don’t consume too many greens daily although they do get quite a lot of nourishment by including these foods in their diet.

Bird Seed mixes

One of the easiest ways to feed cardinals is by offering them bird feed mixes. When buying bird feed mixes, you should focus on more expensive quality feed types. These usually contain more large seed types like sunflowers and cracked corn and fewer small seeds. Quality bird feed mixes can also include peanuts, nuts and dry foods which are ideal for keeping cardinals healthy.


Some pet owners and bird farms choose to offer supplements to cardinals to keep them healthy.

It is important to consult with a vet before adding supplements to water so you can offer the right quantities and types during harsh seasons or breeding season.

Diet variations

Being omnivorous, cardinals can have quite a few diet variations. They are especially prone to consume odd food types when raised in captivity or during harsh conditions.

Cardinals can grow quite fond of human foods like bread, bread crumbs, grains like oats and wheat and other types of human foods. They may also choose to consume dangerous foods like spiders in harsh conditions.

The only food source cardinals will avoid consuming is dairy foods like cheese.

How to feed cardinals?

Cardinals are eager eaters and as such are very easy to feed. They are easily lured to backyards by simply putting out a bird feeder. It is, however, important to use a proper feeder that suits larger seed types that cardinals love to consume. The right bird feeder will offer a large tray where the cardinal can land for feeding. It also should have lots of space to perch and the feeder holes should be big enough to offer a continuous feed.

The best way to offer water to cardinals is by installing a birdbath. These birdbaths are perfect for keeping cardinals entertained and hydrated. They have sufficient landing space and the shallow waters are ideal for cardinals since they can easily reach in to catch insects.

You can also choose to create a feeding area for fruits and bread. This area should be cleaned regularly to prevent ant infestations and rotten foods should be cleared off regularly.

How much do cardinals eat?

Most beads consume about ½ – ¼ of their body weight every day. Adult cardinals weigh about 2lb and will consume about ½ – 1lb of seeds per day. This can, however, vary depending on the age of the cardinal.

Young cardinals can easily consume more foods while they are still growing and if they are still very active. Male cardinals will also consume more food when they are still feeding female cardinals and their young. Female cardinals also work to collect feed to feed their young. It also isn’t uncommon at all for these amazing bird species to offer food to the young of other cardinal babies and even to other bird species.

What do baby cardinals eat?

Baby cardinals are fed by their parents. On the first 11 – 13 days after hatching, the female cardinal will stay on the nest to keep the hatchlings warm and the male will scout for food and offer it to the female and chicks. From day 25 – 56, the female cardinal will also assist in feeding their young.

While chicks are young, the parents will mainly consume insects and regurgitate these foods to young chicks. As chicks grow older, parents may choose to catch and offer whole insects.

Orphaned baby cardinals need to be kept in a warm and cozy environment. A box with a low heat base is ideal. Baby cardinals can be fed on a dry dog or cat food. You can soak ¾ dog or cat food in water along with ¼ soft fruits like berries and offer this to the chick. If the chick is extremely small, the food should be blended. Larger nestlings need solid foods.

Baby birds need to be fed every 15 – 30 minutes from morning tonight. You can also choose to offer specialty baby bird food like parrot foods found at pet stores.

When the bird starts to fly, the cardinal needs to be moved to an outdoor enclosure with a bird feeder where it can learn to self-feed.

What do wild cardinals eat?

Wild cardinals can only consume what they find in their natural habitat. These birds consume 30% of insects and 70% other foods like grass, seeds, leaves, and fruits found in their environment. Wild cardinals can grow fond of bird feeders and will become quite tame if they are fed regularly.

What is the cardinals’ favorite food?

Cardinals love a variety of foods but they do tend to favor larger seeds like sunflower seeds.

They are especially fond of Safire seeds and their beaks are strong enough to bite through thick seed shells.

These animals can also grow fond of bread and bread crumbs and they do enjoy soft fruits like berries.

How do you attract cardinals?

To attract cardinals to your property all you need to do is install the right bird feeder and fill it with the correct foods. Larger types of bird feeders suited for large seeds and dried fruits are ideal for attracting cardinals.

You can also install a birdbath to keep these birds in your yard for longer. Many homeowners also enjoy spoiling cardinals with a fresh fruit stand.

How does the cardinal get its food?

Cardinals usually catch or collect their foods from the environment. They have strong beaks and are very quick flyers. This allows them to instantly swoop down to catch insects on the ground or even catch fast-flying insects in mid-air. Their strong beaks allow them to crack through tough seed shells with ease and they are also happy to bite into fruits or even greens to eat these foods.

Cardinals are beautiful and very interesting birds to behold. They are quite fun to observe and when you attract these beautiful birds to your garden, you will get to enjoy their sounds all day long since they are quite verbal.

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