Cardinals are hard to miss when they visit the garden. Common in the Eastern and Southern United States, cardinals are year round residents. Male cardinals display bright red plumage with a crest on their heads. The females are a slightly duller red-brown color. Both stand about 8 inches tall. Cardinals are a common site in urban yards and suburban areas.
Cardinals nest in thickets and dense shrubs. They commonly build nests close to the ground, using the density of the shrub to provide protection. The female builds the nests 4 to 12 feet from the ground out of twigs, grass, straw, bark, plant materials and hair or fur when available. In urban and suburban landscapes, cardinals commonly build nests in landscape shrubs and hedges. Cardinals begin nest construction in late winter and early spring.
Nesting platforms, placed in a protected area, provide an attractive nest building area for cardinals. A flat shelf 7 to 10 inches square provides enough room for the nest. A roof adds protection for the nest. When using a nesting platform with a roof, select one that has four posts and open spaces between. Some cardinal nesting boxes have 1 to 2-inch tall sides that support the nest. A nesting box with a roof and a single solid wall in the back is also suitable.
Cardinal Nesting Platforms in the Landscape
Installing cardinal nesting platforms in the garden and landscape encourages birds to raise their young close to your home. Imitate the natural habitat by placing nesting boxes and platforms between 4 and 12 feet from the ground. Attach it to branches inside landscape shrubs and dense hedges. A position attached to the side of a house or structure behind a shrub works well. Make sure the nesting platform is well hidden and in dense shrubbery where predators have a difficult time getting in.
Creating a Natural Habitat
One of the best ways to attract cardinals to your garden is by planting native shrubs for both food and habitat. Highbush blueberry ("Vaccinium corymbosum") and bayberry ("Myrica pensylvanica") are two North American native shrubs that provide food and habitat for cardinals. Any dense shrub, native or not, will attract cardinals, but the native plants provide the added benefit of an important food source, not only for cardinals but for other local species of insects, birds and mammals.
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