What Do Cardinals Do in the Winter

What Do Cardinals Do in the Winter?

Each fall, most birds begin their journey towards a warmer climate, so they don’t have to deal with the harsh winters. But not Northern Cardinals. These birds are likely to stick around the same area, and they might visit your backyard as often as they used to do in the summer. Cardinals have evolved several strategies, just like other animals and birds, to survive the colder months. So, what do cardinals do in winter?

The eye-catching Northern Cardinal can be easily spotted in the winter, thanks to its bright plumage. Cardinals don’t migrate in winter and will stick around, trying to maintain their bodies’ temperature. They have special tactics that help them survive the snowy weather, and we’ll discuss them in this article.

Let’s dive in!

Cardinals in the Spring and Summer

The cardinal is a long-year round resident of its range and will become quite aggressive during the mating season, so they can defend their territories. During the spring and summer, the female will lay the eggs and stay in the nest to incubate them and take care of the offspring.

The male cardinal feeds the female and provides her with the seeds because she can’t leave the nest. He will keep on doing that until the young birds can leave the nest and look for food on their own. The breeding season lasts from May to August, and cardinals will mate twice or three times during a single season.

Author Note: After the female cardinal lays the eggs, she will incubate the eggs between 11 and 13 days, and the male cardinal will bring her the seeds to make sure that she is well-fed. The male bird also brings the food to the chicks until the birds are able to leave the nest.

The parents would still keep on feeding the birds a long time after they have left the nest, and they’re capable of protecting and providing for themselves in the wild. Once the young birds are strong, the male cardinal will take over and try to teach the birds how to fly. The female cardinal will probably look for a new spot to build a new nest for the next brood.

What Do Cardinals Do in the Winter?

Male Northern Cardinal in flight on a snowy day

When the winter arrives and the temperature drops, cardinals are likely to become regular visitors to your backyard. They puff up their bodies and form the shape of balls to minimize heat loss to protect themselves and stay warm.

Winter Cardinal Bird Watching

When the temperature drops, cardinals are likely to stick close to residential areas because the food becomes too scarce in the wild. Birdwatchers and bird lovers can set up bird feeders and fill them with seeds to provide the cardinals with food, so they will regularly visit your backyard during winter if you keep a fresh supply of their favorite food.

Filling the bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, berries, cracked corn, and safflower seeds will attract cardinals to your backyard, even during winter. They also like to eat suet and peanuts that provide them with energy to stay warm during winter.

Cardinals are easy to spot during the winter because their bright plumage makes them quite noticeable against the bare branches and white snow. If you keep an eye on your garden, you’ll likely see the attractive birds perching on the branches with their puffed feathers.

Should You Have a Birdhouse?

Cardinal in winter

Cardinals are open nesters, and they prefer to build their nests in a sheltered area between the branches, so they can protect themselves and their eggs from predators. Even when the weather is challenging, cardinals won’t be attracted to a birdhouse or a man-made nest. The best way to protect cardinals in winter is to ensure that your backyard is safe and there’s enough shelter to protect the birds.

Do Cardinals Stay With Their Mates During Winter?

After the mating season, a male cardinal is likely to stay with their female partner because the birds keep each other warm. Moreover, cardinals are likely to mate with the same partner several times, to the point that people used to believe that they’re monogamous.

Nevertheless, this is not 100% true. It’s true that a male cardinal will probably mate with the same female for several years. But if one of the partners is no longer available, the other bird will seek a new mating partner. Moreover, for some reason, partners break their bonds and seek other partners.

This attitude can be attributed to the birds’ survival instincts. As a result, they might look for other partners to make sure that they’re able to produce more offspring to preserve the species.

Do Cardinals Reuse their Old Nests?

No, they don’t. Each year, cardinals will build a new nest, but they might use some pieces of their old nest to create their new one. They might use some of the branches or twigs used to build the old nest to support the new one.

How Long Do Cardinals Survive?

Cardinals usually live for up to 3 years in the wild, but they don’t typically die of old age. In most cases, cardinals aren’t able to survive longer than 3 years due to the number of predators that feed on cardinals.

However, if there are no predators threatening cardinals, the birds are likely to live up to 15 years. In some rare cases, the birds were known to live up to 28 years in captivity.

Should You Bring a Cardinal In if It’s Tapping on Your Window?

Author Note: Birdwatchers and bird lovers usually confuse the actions of birds with human interpretation. A cardinal won’t tap on your window because it wants you to let it in. As a matter of fact, this action is common among territorial birds like cardinals.

A cardinal is hugely protective of its territory, so if you see it tapping on your window, it’s usually confused by its reflection. It will be tapping against the window, trying to scare the other bird away.

How to Attract Cardinals to Your Backyard in the Winter?

Male northern cardinal sitting in an evergreen tree following a winter snowstorm

Cardinals are regular visitors to backyard feeders all year round, but during winter, things can become a little challenging for cardinals and other songbirds. Here are a few tips that make your backyard more appealing to cardinals when the temperature drops.

  • Cardinals are ground feeders, so make sure that your bird feeder isn’t placed too high above the ground as this will provide easy access to food.
  • Choose a feeder with a perching tray or a comfortable perching area that allows birds to feed comfortably.
  • A small tube feeder won’t work for cardinals because they’re medium-sized birds. They will prefer a standing feeder that can withstand their weight.
  • Make sure that your bird feeder is heavyweight and properly secured to the ground. This will protect it from damage due to wind exposure.
  • Spread some seeds on the ground below the feeder. Cardinals are ground feeders and will feel more welcomed when seeds and other types of food are abundant, so they will visit your backyard more often, especially in the winter when food is scarce.

Additional Tips

  • Avoid filling your bird feeder with low-quality food that doesn’t provide your birds with enough energy. Suet is one of the best choices because it keeps the birds warm, in addition to their most favorite seeds like black oil sunflower seeds.
  • Place a birdbath near the feeder to provide birds with a continuous supply of water. The water should be cleaned and properly heated to protect the cardinals from the frost.
  • Focus on the landscape of your backyard, as planting blueberries, mulberries, and blackberries provide cardinals with a healthy source of food and appropriate shelter that helps them feel comfortable and safe. Even though the fruits won’t grow in winter, the thick vines represent an attractive spot for cardinals.
  • Planting evergreen trees and shrubs will make your backyard more appealing to cardinals. These birds prefer to build their nests in areas with abundant camouflage, and evergreen trees and shrubby vines like honeysuckle have thick branches that make the birds feel protected.
  • Keep pet cats and dogs away from the areas where the birds like to hang out. Cardinals are ground feeders, so they will be within reach of domesticated cats and dogs, as well as other predators like squirrels and rodents. Provide the birds with a safe place to roam around, and keep your pets away.

Wrap Up

Cardinals are non-migratory birds and will hang around in the same area all year-round. The birds puff their bodies and stick together to maintain warmth during the cold season and are likely to visit your backyard if you make a few changes to make it more inviting and comfortable. You might even see two mating cardinals share food and kiss!

Keep a secured bird feeder in your backyard, and fill it regularly with seeds and suet. You should also plant evergreen trees and shrubs to provide the cardinals with shelter. Make sure that there’s an adequate source of clean water within reach. Keep the water warm because cardinals can’t drink frozen water.

Author Note: Cardinals are likely to visit the same spot year after year, but they will build a new nest every time. Look out for the wonderful birds and their exceptional plumage, and you’re likely to see them perching on your branches during winter.

Fly high friends!


What does it mean when you see cardinals in the winter?

It has long been accepted that Northern Cardinals bring joy and hope, especially in the bleak winter months. Because they are less frequently seen, it is also believed that they are the bringers of spring.

Where do cardinals sleep in winter?

Cardinals will look for a sheltered spot in the foliage and may gather with other birds to keep warm.

Are Cardinals redder in winter?

It may be that the particular berries they eat in the winter provide them with more red pigment or it could be that they stand out against the snow a bit more.

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