What do cardinals eat in the winter? 3 tasty foods cardinals enjoy

Feeding cardinals during the winter is not only a fantastic way to increase backyard activity and interest, but it can also be a crucial factor in ensuring that these lovely birds survive in difficult winter seasons. Then, what do cardinals eat in the winter? Let’s find out the must-have things and tips!

Do cardinals migrate in the winter?

What do cardinals eat in the winter
Source: Southern Living

Cardinals tend not to move too far from their home breeding place and they do not migrate, therefore the answer is no. They are year-round residents of Mexico and the US east of the Great Plains. Male and female cardinals let go of their fixation with the territory after the fall mating season and begin preparing for the winter.

How do cardinals survive in the winter?

Cardinals, like all warm-blooded creatures, must expend energy to maintain a certain body temperature. This is between 105° and 108° F for northern cardinals. One of their key objectives is to conserve energy and stay warm in any manner possible because it takes a lot of energy to maintain this temperature throughout the winter.

Cardinals use extremely little energy when the outside temperature is 64° F or above, thus they may adjust their body temperature in various ways. They manage body temperature by altering feather placements, fluffing their feathers, changing the direction of blood flow, and finding shelter.

Why should you feed cardinals in the winter?

It’s important to feed cardinals during the winter, especially for those of us who live up north. We’re making it easier for them to find food, for starters. We’re surrounded by blankets of white snow and dreary skies for months on end, so witnessing the male cardinal’s vivid red plumage occasionally lifts our spirits for another (a little selfish) reason.

The cardinal needs more calories in the winter since they burn so many calories just to stay warm (maintaining body temp, fluffing feathers, shivering, etc.) They expend more energy when the temperature drops. Therefore, it is really important to know what do cardinals eat in the winter. 

Many kinds of birds really need your help during the winter, check out these articles to see more tips to feed birds and help them survive winter:

What do cardinals eat in the winter?

There are some food sources that stand out above all others for luring and feeding cardinals in the winter.

Safflower/Sunflower seeds/Peanut

Cardinals hop and forage on the ground as they look for seeds in low-lying bushes and shrubs. Once they locate some, they use their beaks to shatter open the seeds, swallowing the entire kernel. They eat safflower seeds, squash seeds, sunflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, and 39 different varieties of weed seeds because they aren’t picky eaters. The seeds are crucial to birds, especially in the winter, due to their high fat and protein content.

The thin shells of black oil sunflower seeds make it simple for cardinals to crack open using their beaks. A favorite of cardinals, thick-shelled safflower seeds are included in large quantities in pre-made mixes.

According to Susan Perry of Edgewater, Florida, you should use safflower because squirrels ignore it, but cardinals really enjoy it. Here is some bird seed nutrition you can use at your feeders for bluebirds:

  • Safflower seeds: 38% fat, 16% protein, 34% carbs
  • Sunflower/Black oil sunflower seeds: 51% fat, 21% protein, 20% carbs
  • Peanut: 49% Fat, 26% Protein, 19% Carbohydrates
Source: Bobvila


The winter diet of a cardinal is typically more plant-based. Some species will drastically alter their diets, preferring seeds, fruits, and berries over insects. In the winter, insects are more difficult to find. They enjoy dark berries like blueberries and mulberries, and if either variety of bush is flourishing in your garden, they will happily consume it. The fruits contain high levels of vitamin A.

They frequently choose fruits with big seeds. You may try dogwood, huckleberries, etc, or a mixture of fruit and grains of Kaytee. Because they prefer to forage close to the ground, low bushes will be favored by cardinals. Try to keep your bushes near the ground and prune your plants’ foliage to encourage lower growth. 


By consuming pests that affect plants, such as aphids, grasshoppers, slugs, snails, cotton cutworms, and bollworms, cardinals assist farmers and gardeners. Cardinals frequently come to the insects, which reduces their need to move. Some insects they prefer to choose are mealworms, katydids, flies, beetles, and crickets,…

You should buy freeze-dried mealworms to feed cardinals during the winter. It’s ridiculously simple! In a tray or hopper feeder, simply combine any amount with your standard seed mix. Also, dried mealworms require less care than live mealworms and can even be rehydrated with a small amount of water or nectar.

Source: Kreca Feed

How to feed cardinals in the winter?

Foragers on the ground are predominantly cardinals. They can easily hop around the ground in the spring, summer, and fall to find food to eat, but when the ground is covered with snow, it might be difficult, especially if the snow is deep. Therefore, you should know how to feed cardinals in the winter with some tips below.

Choosing the right feeder

Let’s look at when, how, and where cardinals like to eat before discussing their diet and go-to snacks. Cardinals love to eat in the early morning and just before sunset. In light of this, it’s crucial to make sure feeders are filled at these times:

  • Pick a feeder with a perching tray or a cozy perching space.
  • Make sure your birdfeeder is sturdy and firmly fastened to the ground.
  • Cardinals are medium-sized birds, therefore a little tube feeder won’t suit them. They will like a feeder that is standing and can support their weight.

Selecting the right place

The location of your feeder significantly makes cardinal feel safe and warm. You should know how to place the bird feeder following our recommendations below:

  • Your feeder should locate in sheltered locations out of the most severe winds or under low bushes.
  • Make sure your bird feeder isn’t too high off the ground because this will make it simple for birds to get to the food.
  • To ensure that birds have access to water all the time, put a birdbath close to the feeder. 


Should I feed cardinals in the winter?

Yes, feeding cardinals in the winter is a wonderful idea. Insects, seeds, and berries—natural food sources for cardinals—will be harder to come by in the winter. Cardinals also need a lot more food during this time so they have the energy and fat to keep themselves warm.

Do Northern cardinals store food for winter?

Caching food is not usual practice for Northern cardinals. In the winter, they rely on backyard feeding stations and bird feeders, and once they find one that is well-stocked, they will frequent it frequently, especially in the morning and at twilight every day.

Where do cardinals sleep in the winter?

In addition to lofty trees and dense bushes, suitable birdhouses, covered branches, and even sizable tree cavities are among the preferred sleeping locations for cardinals. Cardinals constantly seek out locations that will shield them from predators and cover their heads as they sleep at night.

What do cardinals do when it’s snowing?

Cardinals frequently congregate during the winter to protect the local food sources, and they may even roost together at night to get additional warmth. Male cardinals’ vivid red feathers stand out against the snow’s white background.


These lovely redbirds appear on many holiday cards and nature illustrations, and they are a welcome sight in many backyards all year long. In this article, we have gone through the topic: ‘What do cardinals eat in the winter?’ and hope that it will give you a comprehensive understanding of the must-have things and tips.