Cardinal Cocktail Hour

Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Nancie

Northern Cardinal
Male Northern Cardinal

Every day as dusk approaches, Northern Cardinals gather in my yard. A lot of Northern Cardinals. I see between eighteen and twenty-two most evenings. Twenty-six have shown up for the party in recent weeks. While other birds are winding down their activities and heading back to their preferred snoozing spots for the night, cardinals are busy filling up on safflower until well after darkness falls. I call it “cardinal cocktail hour.”

Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal Eating Safflower at a Hanging Platform Feeder

Cardinals, Feeders & Seed

Northern Cardinals are very common feeder birds here in the US. If you are in their range and put out a bird feeder with something they like, you’ll probably see at least a pair of them regularly. While they seem to like feeding on the ground, they have adapted well to bird feeders and seem quite happy to come and eat what you offer. They do strongly prefer platform and hopper style feeders.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal on the Brush Pile

In my yard, the cardinals eat three types of the seed from the feeders. They will sometimes eat some of the white proso millet that I sprinkle on the ground near the brush pile for sparrows. And they will occasionally eat sunflower hearts from the two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinals and Other Birds at Back Yard Feeders

But their favorite seed seems to be safflower. In the back yard I originally offered this in a ground feeder under the picnic table and a metal hopper feeder on a post. Update: Since writing this post, I’ve discontinued using ground feeders due to squirrels. Currently I offer it in two hanging platform feeders and two platform feeders on posts.

In the front yard, a hanging metal mesh tube feeder also offers safflower. I’ve tried to place all of the feeders so that they have cover a short flight away.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinals Gather in the Wisteria Tangle

Yes, this is a lot of safflower. There is plenty to eat and lots of feeder space for them to share. This is a big part of why so many cardinals come and visit each day. The males do get silly about chasing each other around in the spring. But most of the year, they seem to get along fairly well and are content to hang out together near the food.

First to Arrive & Last to Leave

Northern Cardinals are always among the very first birds to arrive in the yard, appearing each day at least a half hour before the sun. At any given time during the bulk of the day, there will almost always be between two and eight cardinals. They are usually evenly divided between the bright red males and the orange/red females.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinals in the Yard. (Look Closely. Can you Count All of Them?)

As each afternoon moves toward its end, cardinal numbers begin to expand. Six cardinals become eight. Eight become twelve. Turn around and several more have swooped in and there are suddenly eighteen.

They almost always first appear in the wisteria tangle near the feeders. They check out the area and then spread out to the various feeders, quickly zipping back to the cover of the tangle if something spooks them.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal Eating Safflower at a Platform Feeder

By early dusk, there is a full contingent of a couple dozen cardinals making quick flights around the yard from feeder to branch to tangle and back again. They are active mostly in the back yard where the bulk of the feeders are. But some will always be found at the front feeder as well. As it grows dark, they gradually start to slip away, with a half dozen or so hanging around eating until well after the world has turned dark.


Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal as Dusk Arrives in the Yard

Learn More About Cardinals & Other Maryland Birds

Maryland Backyard Birds.

Attracting Northern Cardinals

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11 thoughts on “Cardinal Cocktail Hour

    1. Thanks! I’ve spent the last couple years tweaking things with the feeders but I finally feel like I have things set up so that it all works really well. : )

    1. Thank you! In my yard, I find that the cardinals especially love safflower seed and seem to prefer the platform type feeders (either hanging or on a pole) over tube feeders, although they’ll use those too. I think part of why I get so many cardinals is that I put out so much safflower in these types of feeders so they can spread out on and around them.

      1. Thank you. I want to place an order for some safflower seeds–I have hulled sunflower seeds out but I see that some birds prefer the safflower. I cannot figure out how to find your amazon affiliate links—

        1. Hmmm. I don’t think I’ve previously set up a link specifically to safflower on Amazon. (The links are typically found within articles.) But I just found a couple options for you:

          Here is one for a 7 lb bag on Amazon:

          Here is one for a 50 lb bag on Amazon:

          It actually looks like the 7 lb bag has the better price per pound.

          Hope this helps. Nancie

        2. By the way, there are other birds that will eat the safflower as well. In my yard, the House Finches and the Mourning Doves are also fans. Tufted Titmouses, Chickadees and some other birds will eat it too, although they probably would pick the sunflower seed first.

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