The Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, ranks as one of the most recognized birds in North America. The male's bright red feathers, noticeable crest and orange bill distinguish this bird from other red birds in the United States. A common sight at bird feeders, cardinals will nest in backyards with suitable habitat. Instead of making an enclosed birdhouse, you are more likely to encourage a pair of cardinals to make a home on a simple open-concept nesting platform, properly placed a good distance from the ground.
A year-round resident throughout its range, the Northern Cardinal is typically found east of the Rocky Mountains, although it flies as far as southern Arizona. The male is usually bright red; the female is brown to brownish red with a smaller crest. Both the male and female cardinal sing. Their diet varies with the season but they usually rely on a mixture of seeds, insects and fruits.
Cardinal Nesting Preferences
Cardinals prefer to nest in the branches of trees rather than holes in the trunk. Making an enclosed birdhouse for a cardinal will most likely be in vain, as the cardinal will ignore it, while cavity-nesting birds such as wrens and house sparrows will move in. A simple nest structure may encourage a female to build a nest.
Making a Nest Platform
Nest platforms for cardinals typically use just a few pieces of scrap wood and common workshop tools like a hammer and nails. Make a structure 7 to 10 inches in height, with an 8-by-8-inch floor. Although paints and stains increase the longevity of the wood, cardinals may avoid the nest structure until the odor goes away.
Nest Platform Placement
The nest platform should attach to a tree or within dense shrubs 2 to 15 feet off the ground. Nails and screws will damage the tree's bark; rope or wire serve as better choices to secure the nest platform. Cardinals prefer cover – the more hidden the structure, the more likely it will get used. The addition of nesting materials such as pine needles or thin, flexible branches may encourage a pair to choose the platform as their nesting site.
Tips for Success
Building several platforms at different heights in multiple trees and shrubs may increase the chances that a pair will choose to nest in your yard. Very territorial, cardinals won't tolerate another cardinal nest nearby. Also, cardinals usually don't use the same nest site twice, so you should consider moving a used nest platform to a new location in your yard at summer's end.