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Looking For The Best Bird Food For Cardinals?
Here’s a look at our favorites, including our top pick – Kaytee Cardinal Blend, 7-Pound Bag.
My grandmother always kept a bird feeder in her backyard. Every time we visited her, I was always fascinated by the variety of birds that I saw near the feeder. Their songs were always beautiful, and their vivid colors were a painter’s dream.
I was too young to understand the different types of birds, but I always got excited when a brilliant red cardinal flew into the mix. Today, I keep the tradition going by keeping a feeder in my backyard, so my children can enjoy the same experience.
What to look for in bird food for cardinals
Before we dive into what bird food is best for cardinals, let’s start with a quick discussion of what types of food sources you’ll generally see in bird food:
- Sunflower seeds – there are two types of sunflower seeds: black oil and striped. Black oil seeds (known as “oilers”) have thin shells and are easy for just about any seed-eating bird to open. They have a high fat content, and are therefore preferred by winter birds. Striped sunflower seeds have a thicker shell that’s a lot harder for house sparrows and blackbirds to peck open. So, if you’d like to weed out some of the more common varieties of birds, switching from black oil to striped is an easy way to start. You can also get shelled sunflower seeds, but without the protective shell these will only stay good for one or two days, and they’ll most likely be pilfered by the squirrels in your backyard.
- Safflower seeds – this is the seed preferred by cardinals, and is known to attract some grosbeaks, chickadees, doves, and native sparrows. It has a thick shell that can be difficult for many birds to crack open.
- Niger or thistle – small finches prefer these small, black, needle-like seeds. Most suppliers have switched away from thistle to a close cousin called Niger (or nyjer), as thistles have become an invasive plant problem in North America.
- White millet – this is a favorite of ground-feeding birds like quails, native American sparrows, doves, towhees, juncos, and cardinals. It’s also preferred by cowbirds, blackbirds and house sparrows, so you’ll have to be careful when spreading it. Only spread enough on the ground for one day, as it can go bad quickly.
- Shelled and cracked corn – corn is eaten by grouse, pheasants, turkeys, quails, cardinals, grosbeaks, crows, ravens, jays, doves, ducks, and cranes. Unfortunately, it’s the type of bird food that’s most likely contaminated with aflatoxins, which can be very toxic even at low levels. It’s also a favorite of bears, raccoons, and deer, so be careful how much corn you leave out if you want to avoid any of these uninvited guests. Never purchase or feed corn that is covered in red dye. Such corn is meant for planting and is usually covered in fungicides.
- Peanuts – peanuts are popular with jays, crows, chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers, though they can also attract squirrels, bears, and raccoons. Similar to corn, peanuts can contain harmful aflatoxins, so be sure to keep it dry and ensure it is eaten promptly.
- Milo or sorghum – Milo is a favorite of many Western ground-feeding birds, including Steller’s jays, curve-billed thrashers, and Gambel’s quails. House sparrows aren’t usually a fan, but cowbirds are.
- Golden millet, red millet, and flax seeds – these are common fillers that should be avoided as much as possible. Birds tend to shun these types of food, which leads to wasted, contaminated food that may harbor harmful bacteria and fungi.
- Canary seed and rapeseed – these seeds don’t offer any benefit over the other common seed types. Some birds eat rapeseed, but many don’t, which will usually lead to waste and contamination. They’re also known to attract house sparrows and cowbirds.
This Kaytee Cardinal mix is designed to attract cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, and grosbeaks. It includes some bitter safflower seeds to discourage squirrels from stealing food, and it has a high-oil seed content that is particularly desirable to songbirds. The bag has barrier packaging to seal in freshness and prevent infestation.
The Wagner’s mix keeps it simple with 60% black oil sunflower seeds and 40% safflower seeds. As the name suggests, it’s specifically intended for cardinals. The mixture of high-oil content provides the energy that brightly colored birds need to flourish. The bag has a Velcro press-lock for convenience.
The Kaytee Nut and Fruit Blend is meant to attract cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and other colorful songbirds. It’s an excellent high-energy food for year-round feeding, with a balanced blend of chewy and crunchy pieces, real fruits and nuts, and a flavor that birds will love.
The Lyric Supreme Wild Bird Mix is a nutritional mix with 7 different seeds, 3 varieties of nuts, sunflower kernels, and cracked corn. Note that with the presence of corn in this mix, you’ll need to take extra care that the bag is properly sealed to prevent contamination, and only leave enough food out for 1 – 2 days of feeding to prevent spoiling.
The mix has a 50% sunflower seed base. All of the ingredients are natural, high quality food sources with no fillers. Given the rich blend, this feed food should attract a wide variety of wild birds.
The Morning Song mix is another fantastic blend that’s specifically blended for cardinals. It contains a mixture of black oil sunflower seeds, white millet, safflower, and cracked corn. Again, with the presence of corn you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t spoil. It’s intended for use in hopper or platform feeders, but you can also spread it on the ground if you prefer.
Cardinals are known to prefer sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, white millet, and shelled and cracked corn. Of those, safflower is king. If you want to attract cardinals without gathering too many house sparrows, blackbirds, and cowbirds, it’s a good idea to use striped sunflower sees (as these are difficult for many birds to crack open).
If you’re seeing a few too many squirrels, cut back on the corn and increase the safflower in your seed, as the bitter taste will dissuade squirrels and other scavengers from stealing the bird food. Regardless of which food you choose, make sure the bag is always sealed to prevent contamination, and regularly change out the bird food that you leave outside so that you don’t allow bacteria and fungi to grow.