The Cardinal Feeding Preferences

Cardinals love to stay in places that offer them a good supply of food. This is the reason why they are frequent backyard visitors especially to homes that have bird houses and feeders. Cardinals eat different kinds of food including insects, seeds, grains and fruits. The pokeberry, poison ivy fruit, elm buds, box elder seeds, ragweed seeds, sunflower seeds, muskmelon seeds and corn are just some of their favorite food. Thirty percent of their diet consists of insects making the cardinals very useful to farmers and gardeners. Their insect diet consists of pests such as moths, beetles, ants, dragonflies, cotton cutworms, scale insects, cotton bollworms, grasshoppers, aphids, snails and slugs.

During the winter season, cardinals are a frequent sight in backyard feeders in search of food along with sparrows, finches, towhees and other seed-eating birds. Cardinals usually eat on the ground by hopping around but they can go to bird tables, trays on posts and trees, window trays and hanging feeders especially those with perches.

Water is vital for cardinals. They use it for drinking and bathing during the hot and cold months. You must have seen that they love to visit birdbaths with fresh and unfrozen water. When they can’t find a birdbath, cardinals will look for shallow edges of ponds and streams. They also love to bath beside lawn water sprinklers.

The adult cardinals are normally busy feeding. The young, whose digestive tract is still developing, often go hungry as they usually defecate after each feeding. So the normal routine of a parent cardinal that brought the food is to wait on the rim of their nest while the chick digested its food and defecated. Afterwards, the parent removes the fecal sac and brings it far from the nest to hide their location from possible predators.

When looking for food, cardinals hop on the ground and look through low shrubs and trees. They use their heavy beaks to crack seeds and then swallow the whole nut kernel.

Mate feeding does not happen all the time between cardinals. The male, during winter time, refuses to eat with his mate. It is only when spring comes that he allows mate feeding once more. When this happens, the male brings sunflower seeds and other food to the female who patiently waits while fluttering her wings as if begging for food. He then puts the seed in her bill as if sealing it with a kiss.

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