Every day as dusk approaches, the Northern Cardinals gather in my yard. A lot of Northern Cardinals. I see between eighteen and twenty-two cardinals most evenings, although 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, the cardinals are busy filling up on safflower until well after darkness falls. I call it “cardinal cocktail hour.”
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.
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 the sparrows. And they will also eat sunflower hearts from the two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders.
But their favorite seed seems to be safflower. In the back yard I offer this in a ground feeder under the picnic table, two hanging platform feeders, one platform feeder on a post and a metal hopper style feeder, also on a post.
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.
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. While the males do get silly about chasing each other around in the spring, most of the year, they seem to get along with each other fairly well and are content to hang out together near the food.
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, usually evenly divided between the bright red males and the orange/red females.
As each afternoon moves toward its end, the 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.
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.