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Upper Midwest Gardening: The Calling of the Cardinals

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Nothing is sweeter than the soft song of a northern cardinal. Learn what it takes to attract these beauties to your Upper Midwest backyard.

 Northern cardinals are winter's red delights!

This is a northern cardinal - it can't be mistaken for any other bird. Its bright-red plumage is a treat during the summer, but wait until winter. This scarlet beauty will be more appreciated against a white, snow-covered landscape. The hot-red color will stop you in your tracks; and the tufted crest on its head, its black throat and facemask are never mistaken. The female, with muted colors, might be a bit harder to spot, but the characteristics are there: light-brownish-red color with reddish tinted tails and head crest.

 Female cardinals feed with other birds.

And that's just the beginning. It's not just the birds' beauty that attracts bird-watchers; wait until you hear them sing. Their voices are delightfully happy. In fact the male cardinal is the most popular of all songbirds. Not that the female can't carry a tune, but it's the male's robust and enthusiastic voice that starts every morning as the sun comes up. And often the male and female sing to each other from opposing trees. One starts and the other finishes, as if they are talking to each other. And sometimes they are. Often the female has to ask for food while taking care of the nest.

Getting cardinals to your backyard is easy. Feed them, give them water and shelter, and they'll not only hang around but they'll make your yard their home to start a family.

Cardinals gather into flocks for the winter. If you are lucky and offer a smorgasbord of tasty treats, you will be treated to an explosion of color and a front row seat to watch them dine with other birds. They are the first feeders in the morning and the last to leave in the evening. And they'll happily wait their turn for a shot at the buffet.

 A cardinal adds a splash of color to a winter bird feeder.

Food for Thought

These birds are not finicky! Just give them the right food, and they're sure to be daily visitors. Cardinals prefer bird feeders that are about 4 to 6 inches high. Hanging feeders work, but cardinals prefer the stability of a steadier stationary feeder. And they are ground feeders.

Some of their favorite seeds include black oil sunflowers, buckwheat, black- and gray-stripe sunflowers, and safflower seeds. The cardinal's large bill allows it to crack open larger seeds.

  A cardinal has plenty to dig for dinner.

 Just Add Water!

Water plays an important role in attracting not only cardinals but also other birds. A birdbath is essential. But remember to replenish water daily during the coldest days of winter to keep it from freezing. Or save yourself the job and look into a heated birdbath.

If you set up your outdoor bird diner this winter, cardinals will make your backyard their home and raise families in spring. How lucky!