Northern cardinals are one of the most common winter birds in North America, particularly throughout the eastern United States. Cardinals are songbirds, and most songbirds in the wild migrate to warmer regions before or during winter.
Now, the question is, do cardinals migrate? Cardinals don’t migrate anywhere in the winter. These non-migratory birds stay in the same area all year. They usually prefer to live where they were born. However, if food becomes scarce in their areas, they might travel to somewhere else in search of a new food source.
In this article, we’re also going to talk about why cardinals don’t migrate, how they survive winter, and what you can do to help winter cardinals. By the way, we have an article on where cardinals sleep at night. We recommend reading it.
Related Blog: Do Cardinals Abandon Their Babies? [Read more]
Why Don’t Cardinals Migrate?
Whether or not a bird migrates in the winter entirely depends on what type of food the bird consumes. For example, if a bird species feeds on insects or nectar, it will need to migrate because insects and natural nectar are scarce in the winter.
On the other hand, northern cardinals don’t need to migrate because they get enough food to survive. Cardinal winter diet includes seeds, particularly sunflower, millet, and nyjer, and insects under tree bark. These foods are available in most North American regions in winter.
How Do Cardinals Survive Winter?
Northern cardinals are well-equipped to resist chilly winter weather. Their feathers are great insulators, and their feet have complex blood arteries that keep them warm on the coldest winter nights. Aside from the weather, cardinals are more prone to predator attacks.
Here are some techniques that northern cardinals follow to survive in the coldest winter months.
#1. Flocking Together
Cardinals flock together to protect themselves from bad winter night weather, though they’re usually known to be territorial. They usually live in pairs, especially during the mating season. However, they form big flocks in the winter, believing ‘safety is in numbers.’
#2. Nesting In High And Dense Trees
Since northern cardinals have attractive bright red plumage, they’re prone to predator attack, relatively more during winter. To protect themselves from predators, cardinals build nests high up in densely covered trees. They also get covered by heavy snow.
#3. Residing In Well-Built Human Structures
Another way cardinals protect themselves from predator attacks and chilly weather is by residing in well-built human structures, such as garages, barns, and sheds. Thanks to staying close to humans, they often get treats from many avid bird lovers.
#4. Burning Fat Reserves
In order to maintain body warmth on chilly winter nights, cardinals burn their fat reserves. That’s why they need to eat protein-rich birdseed during the day. Due to climate change, cardinals are now luckily getting enough seeds to feed on in winter.
#5. Developing An Extra Layer of Feathers (Molting)
In the late summer, cardinals usually molt, which means they develop an extra layer of feathers. The layer helps cardinals warm on the coldest winter nights. Once winter ends, they molt again to shed all the excess feathers so that they can live in warm summer weather.
#6. Adapting To Available Food Sources In Winter
Typically, a cardinal diet mainly includes seeds, berries, insects throughout spring and summer. But, in the winter, they may need to adapt to other available food sources, like nuts, fruits, and insects under tree bark to survive harsh winter weather.
#7. Hiding A Sufficient Amount Of Food Before Winter
In the summer and throughout the fall, some cardinals hide food for the upcoming winter so that they can utilize the food when really needed. They usually cache seeds and nuts because these items are not readily available during winter.
Then, Why Don’t You See Cardinals In Winter?
Cardinals can travel to regions where food sources are abundant. They move only when the food is scarce in their current areas. If you don’t see cardinals in winter, this means they go somewhere else to find a reliable food source.
Furthermore, you cannot see cardinals in winter if you live in an area where cardinals are not abundant throughout the year. For example, northern cardinals are not common in Alaska, California, Washington, and Hawaii.
How Can You Help Winter Cardinals?
If you’re a cardinal lover, you have some responsibilities to take care of cardinals, particularly in winter when they’re pretty vulnerable to harsh weather and potential predators. In this section, we’re discussing 5 useful tips that help you in assisting cardinals during winter.
1. Provide The Right Feed
Northern cardinals need highly nutritious food to survive the coldest winter weather. Due to snow during winter, most natural food sources get buried. As a consequence, cardinals rely on the food offered by many backyard birders.
Some nutritious foods you can put out for them are:
- Black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, mixed seeds, and nyjer (thistle) seeds.
- Cracked corn, white proso millet, etc.
- Different types of nuts, particularly peanuts.
- Suet cakes, suet shreds, suet nuggets.
- Chopped fruits and berries.
- Live or dried mealworms.
Most of the foods we have just recommended are available on Amazon. You can click the links above to purchase them.
2. Hang Cardinal-Specific Bird Feeders
Northern cardinals would like to have their treats in bird feeders, especially when feeding on backyards in winter. If you give treats to cardinals, hang some cardinal-specific bird feeders. Make sure to mount durable feeders that come with a wide lid.
Considering the factors, we would recommend you purchase the Perky-Pet Cardinal Bird Feeder from Amazon. The feeder will protect the birdseed from getting wet and spoiled. In winter, snow will get accumulated on the lid.
In terms of feeder placement, mount the feeder 6 to 8 feet off the ground. Make sure to position it near dense shrubs and trees. As cardinals are ground feeders, place a tray below the feeder to help cardinals eat on the ground (The link takes you to Amazon).
Besides, you can also have a durable window feeder with strong suction cups. In this case, the Nature Anywhere Window Bird Feeder on Amazon could be the best option. Aside from the suction cups, the feeder features a sturdy perching stand and a roof with two facets.
3. Install A Heated Birdbath
In winter months, not only do cardinals require food to survive but they also need fresh water to drink. But, when almost all water sources are frozen, how do cardinals drink water? A heated birdbath can keep the water liquid even on the coldest winter nights.
If you’re willing to help cardinal birds in drinking water from birdbaths during winter, we recommend you install the Wildlife World Shenstone Bird Bath and the GESAIL Bird Bath Heater. Both products are available on Amazon.
If you already have a birdbath, just use the deicer heater we have mentioned above. Clean the birdbath at least once in a couple of weeks, if not possible, once in a month. Don’t use bleach to clean the birdbath.
4. Build Cardinal-Friendly Birdhouses
In order to help cardinals in winter, you can install a few cardinal-friendly birdhouses in your backyard. You can make some DIY birdhouses, purchase them from local bird shops, or order online. If you’re willing to place orders online, we have some recommendations for you.
The SZM Wood Bird House for Cardinals is one of the best options out there on Amazon. The birdhouse is ideal to protect cardinals from potential predators during winter. Besides, you can also have a look at the NATUREYLWL Bird House on Amazon.
These birdhouses are designed to build for winter use. Cardinals may not like these enclosed birdhouses in summer. However, when it comes to surviving cold winter nights, there might not be any alternatives out there for cardinals.
Pro Tip: Add some protective coatings, like cloth and wood chips, to enhance warmth and comfort.
5. Provide Natural Vegetation For Shelter
As cardinals prefer to live in dense shrubs in winter, a greenery backyard can help cardinals survive the coldest weather. Not only does the green environment shelter cardinals, but it also protects them from various winter threats.
If you would like to help cardinals in winter, plant some trees in your backyard. Surprisingly, cardinals could be the permanent neighbors of yours. Provide nesting materials, such as twigs, grasses, stems, and pine needles to help cardinals build a place for themselves.
If someone asks you, where do cardinals go in the winter? You can reply to him/her that cardinals don’t go anywhere in the winter. They’re quite adaptive to climate changes. If you find any of them in your yard, let it receive you hospitality with delicious treats.
However, we hope this post has helped you a lot in learning the migration habits of northern cardinals. If you have ever gotten a cardinal as your guest in winter, how did you treat it? Let us know your experience below in the comment sections.
You Can Also Read:
- Male VS Female Cardinal [Read here]
- Do Cardinals Abandon Their Babies? [Read here]
- Can A Cardinal Be Half Male Half Female? [Read here]
- Can Cardinal Birds Be Pets? [Read here]
- Where Do Cardinals Build Their Nests? [Read here]
- Do Cardinals Use Birdhouses? [Read here]
- What Do Cardinals Eat? [Read here]
- How To Attract Cardinals? [Read here]