What do cardinals eat? A Guide to Cardinal’s Natural Diet and Human-Friendly Foods

Last Updated on
What Do Cardinals Eat

Cardinals are a species of bird that is native to North America. They can be found in parts of the United States and Canada, but they also live in other countries worldwide. One thing that makes cardinals so unique is their diet. Cardinals eat many things naturally – from insects to berries – but people also feed them on purpose!

In this blog post, you will learn what Cardinals eat, as well as some human-friendly food options for your backyard.

What Do Cardinals Eat?

Cardinals are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. While cardinals do have a list of foods that are part of their natural diet, there are also foods that humans can give them.

Cardinals tend to eat more in the summer when they have chicks or are feeding their young. However, they eat throughout the year to get enough food for themselves.

We are going to go over both natural diets and human-friendly foods.

What do Cardinals eat most of the time?

Cardinals are omnivores that eat seeds, fruits, and Insects. A Northern Cardinal’s preferred foods are Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, Safflower Seeds, Cracked Corn, Black Raspberries, Mulberries, Hawthorne Tree fruit, and easy to catch insects like Moths and Beetles.

What Do Cardinals Eat in the Wild?

Cardinals eat Seeds

Cardinals eat a variety of seeds, such as:

  • Sunflower hearts
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Safflower
  • cracked corn
  • sunflower seed mix – especially if they are feeding their young.

Cardinals eat sunflower hearts because they are a tasty treat that birds enjoy. The large size of the seed also makes it easy for Cardinals to pick them up and chew on them.

Cardinals also eat the black oil sunflower seeds because they are high in protein and fat. They can be easily opened, which is another reason cardinals like them – especially if their food supply isn’t always consistent.

Cardinals also eat safflower seeds because they are high in fat. They can live on them if their food supply gets scarce for a few days, and it is easier to open than sunflower seeds.

The last seed that Cardinals like to eat is cracked corn. Cardinals especially enjoy eating this type of corn because it is easier to open than safflower or sunflower seeds.

Cardinals Eat Fruits

Cardinals also eat fruits, such as

  • black raspberries
  • wild grape
  • mulberry
  • hawthorn tree fruit.

Cardinals can also find fruit in trees such as cherry, peach, and plum. These types of fruits are sweet, which makes them an ideal food for Cardinals to feed on.

Cardinals eat black raspberries because they are sweet and easy for Cardinals to chew. They especially love the seeds inside of them!

Cardinals also like eating wild grapes, which are very similar in taste to black raspberries. Cardinals will choose these over other fruit options because they are prominent and easy to swallow. Cardinals also love the seeds inside of grapes!

The last fruit that the Cardinals like to eat is mulberries. Cardinals can find these berries in parts of North America, Europe, Asia, Australia – even certain regions in northern Africa. Cardinals choose these over other types of fruit because they are sweet and easy to chew.

Cardinals also like eating the fruit from a Hawthorne tree, found in parts across America. The reason Cardinals will choose this over other options is because it has an extremely high sugar content – making them delicious!

Cardinals eat Insects

Insects are a great source of protein for cardinals, and they love eating insects such as

  • moths
  • crickets
  • grasshoppers
  • beetles
  • and earthworms

Cardinals especially love eating the giant green Grasshoppers known as a locust. The reason Cardinals enjoy these types of insects is that they are easy to catch.

Another type of insect that Cardinals like to eat includes Beetles. The reason Cardinals choose these over other insects is that they enjoy the taste. They especially love eating June Bugs!

Cardinals also like eating crickets because they have the same flavor as June Bugs – making them an easy meal for Cardinals to catch!

Cardinals also enjoy eating Moths, which can be found in North America and Europe. They like these types of insects because they are easy to catch.

Cardinals also eat Earthworms, which are easy to find in most parts of the world. The reason Cardinals enjoy them so much because they can be found on top of or below ground – making it extremely easy for cardinals to catch!

Mealworms are another type of insect that Cardinals enjoy eating because they are easy to obtain. They especially love the taste of these worms, which is why Cardinals search for them outside or buy them from a pet store that has mealworms!

Cardinals eat Nuts

Cardinals will eat Nuts in the wild, such as

  • acorns
  • hickory nuts
  • and beechnut

Hickory nuts are one of many types of food that cardinals like to eat. They especially love eating these types of nuts because they taste great!

Cardinals also love eating beechnut, which is found in large parts of North America. The reason that cardinals enjoy these nuts is that they taste sweet and have a laxative effect!

One last type of nut that Cardinals like to eat includes acorns. The reason Cardinals will choose these over other types of nuts is that they taste good and are easy to chew.

Cardinals do not only eat nuts in the wintertime, but they also like to eat them during other seasons of the year. Nuts are straightforward for Cardinals to open up and chew down!

Human-friendly foods for Cardinals in your backyard

Cardinals are attracted to natural sources of food and will also be attracted to human foods that people feed them!

Cardinals like to eat a variety of foods that humans provide them with, including:

  • Fruit
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Raisins (in small doses)
  • Seeds such as sunflower or safflower seeds
  • Mealworms and crickets bought from the pet store
  • Bird Seed is an excellent source of nutrition for Cardinals, which is why they love eating this option.

What is The best food to feed a cardinal at a Feeder

There are plenty of options that you can choose from when it comes to feeding Cardinals in your backyard.

Here’s a list of the best types of foods to feed Cardinals at your backyard Bird Feeders:

Natural Seeds

One standard food option is natural seeds, which have lots of nutrients and are easy for backyard birds like cardinals to chew on. Cardinals especially love to eat sunflower seeds and safflower seeds from your backyard.

These plants have been known for having plenty of nutrients and are sure to attract Cardinals from far away.

Fruits and Berries

Fruits and berries are one of the best types of food you can feed a Cardinal. They enjoy this option so much because it contains lots of vitamins and minerals that will keep them healthy.

Fruits and berries also taste great, which makes it a perfect food for Cardinals to eat.


Mealworms and crickets bought from the pet store are other terrific options when it comes to feeding Cardinals.

These insects will provide your backyard with plenty of nutrients, especially protein. Mealworms are very useful for cardinals that are trying to grow or have just had babies.

Bird Seed Mixes

Bird Seed is another excellent option to choose from when feeding Cardinals in your backyard. Store bought birdseed is known for being very easy for cardinals to eat and provides lots of nutrients and protein.

Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and Raisins (in small doses) are other terrific options to feed Cardinals in your backyard. They enjoy this type of food because it’s very sweet, making it a tasty treat for the Cardinals.

What do Baby Cardinals Eat?

Cardinal Babies are very young and don’t have many options for what they can eat. One of the primary sources that baby cardinals feed on is insects, which provide them with lots of protein. Here’s a list of soft body insects baby cardinals can eat:

  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Waxworms  
  • Ants

3 Tips for feeding cardinals in the winter

1. Use Bird Feeders

Cardinals are brilliant and will find their food sources if people don’t feed them. If you would like to help them out, leaving a bird feeder with seeds or fruit hanging outside is an option, as well as putting up a Squirrel Proof Feeder in your backyard.

Feeding Cardinals with bird feeders is a great way to help them survive in the wintertime.

2. Use Suet Feeders

Another great way to help Cardinals in the winter is by placing a Suet Feeder outside your house. Suet will give cardinals various sources of nutrients that they need during this time.

Using a Suet Feeder with different types of suet’s inside is another great way to help Cardinals get the nutrition they would otherwise get from eating seeds and fruits.

3. Use Water Sources and Bird Baths

A water source will give Cardinals a place to drink water if they cannot find it elsewhere, which is helpful for them during the winter months when their food sources are harder to come by.

9 Things you should never give a cardinal as food.

Things you should never give a cardinal as food:

Salty Foods are not suitable for Cardinals because they can make them sick, which makes this something they should avoid at all costs when feeding in your backyard. 

Chocolate and Candy are two other things you should never give Cardinals food because it’s unhealthy for them to eat. 

Junk Food is another thing that Cardinals want to avoid while feeding in your backyard. Junk food includes foods like chips or pretzels, which don’t provide much nutrition for them.

Avocados are another thing. Cardinals want to avoid while feeding in your backyard because it can make them sick when eaten. 

Apples should only be fed to a Cardinal in your backyard if you have removed the seeds first.

Rhubarb Leaves are something else Cardinals want to avoid while feeding at your backyard Feeder because it’s poisonous for birds and can make them sick or kill them depending on how much they eat.

Mushrooms are something else Cardinals want to avoid while feeding at your backyard Feeder because it’s poisonous for birds and can make them sick or kill them depending on how much they eat.

Yeast Dough is another thing you should avoid feeding Cardinals at all costs while they provide in your backyard Feeder because it’s unhealthy for birds to eat, and if their stomach gets upset, it can make them sick.

Bread should only be given as food if completely thawed, broken into small crumbs, and soaked in water before being offered to Cardinals at the Feeder.  

what are some signs of illness and malnutrition in birds?

If your bird is not eating and you begin noticing physical variances in the birds, this can show that they are sick.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • The birds’ feathers do not look healthy and shiny anymore. This might mean that there aren’t getting enough nutrients or minerals in their diet that they need while feeding at your backyard Feeder.  
  • The birds seem to have lost a lot of weight or look frail.
  • Discharge coming from their mouth or nostrils. This can be another sign that they are sick, or it’s just because they’ve been eating something like bread with yeast dough, which makes the bird feel ill afterward.  
  • Open wounds on your Cardinals while feeding at your backyard Feeder. This can be a sign that they are sick, or it could just mean that there’s been an injury while feeding in your backyard Feeder. (Time to check your Feeder?)
  • The Cardinals seem lazy or not being able to perch or grip things with their feet correctly.
  • If the bird is shaking, trembling, or has its eyes closed while feeding in your backyard Feeder.
  • The Cardinals’ droppings turn white or very pale instead of the normal brownish coloration which comes from eating dark green leafy vegetables while feeding in your backyard Feeder.
  • The birds seem weak, disoriented, or uncoordinated when they try to feed at your backyard Feeder because these could all be signs that the bird is sick.
  • If birds have diarrhea, it could also mean that your backyard Feeder is contaminated, which can be harmful to other birds at the Feeder. So you should clean up all of the droppings right away and remove any uneaten foods or debris from inside it.
  • The birds have a lot of salt or residue on their feathers. This can be because they’ve been drinking water from somewhere contaminated with high levels of chlorine or other chemicals that are poisonous to birds and could leave them very sick.

So, what do cardinal eat?

Cardinals are beautiful birds that can be found in many parts of the world. They have adapted to various environments, and can eat a variety of different foods.

Cardinals eat both naturally occurring things like berries or insects and foods that humans offer up at home. In this blog post, we’ve covered everything you need to know about a cardinal’s diet and what we can feed them at home.

If you have any experience feeding cardinals and have some other food ideas, let us know! We would love to hear from you about your experiences so that we can share with our readers. Learning is a shared experience!

Remember to check our other blog posts for more information about birds and nature. Also, remember to share this article with your friends, family, and fellow bird lovers!

Photo of author
I am an avid birdwatcher with a passion for learning all I can about these fantastic creatures. I love finding new species of birds in my backyard, neighborhood, or when I travel. I enjoy sharing everything I learn about how these creatures live their lives; feedback and experience is much appreciated!

Leave a Comment