Your Cardinal Bird House Questions Answered

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Want to see a family of cardinals in the spring? Find out if you should put up a cardinal bird house in your backyard.

Northern cardinals, sometimes called redbirds, are one of the most popular backyard visitors. (They’re also one of the cutest birds, along with these 11 other favorites!) Their cheery chip-chip call, perky head crests, and brilliant colors make them a heart-warming sight year-round. Cardinals readily visit feeders, but what about nesting? Is there such a thing as a cardinal bird house? Here’s the answer.

Will Cardinals Use a Bird House?

Northern Cardinal on a bird houseblightylad-infocus/Getty Images
Male northern cardinal perching on a bird house

In the wild, cardinals prefer to build their nests in thick tangles of foliage. Females take care of most of the building, with males occasionally offering some material to help out. Do cardinals mate for life? The female takes a lot of care in building her nest, wedging it into a fork that can be between one and 15 feet above the ground. She starts by chewing on twigs with her beak, bending them into a cup. She then layers in leaves, bark, grasses, and pine needles.

This process takes can take more than a week, ending in a nest that’s about 3 inches tall and four inches across. Despite all the hard work, cardinals rarely use their nests more than once. After raising their brood of 2 to 5 eggs, they move on to new digs.

Unlike many other birds, these vivid fliers won’t use traditional bird houses. They’re not cavity nesters, so they don’t seek out fully enclosed spaces. The best way to attract a family of cardinals is to provide plenty of dense shrubbery, their preferred nesting habitat. But if that’s not an option, you might consider trying a nesting ledge box for cardinals.

Psst—If you see a cardinal, here’s what it means.

Offer a Cardinal Nesting Box Instead

cardinal bird houseVia Merchant
An open nesting box or shelf is a better option for attracting cardinals.

An open-fronted box can provide the shelter cardinals are looking for, and might encourage them to nest in your yard. We found a ready-made cardinal nesting box on Etsy to mount under your eaves or on a post near a thicket. Robins may also be attracted to these open nest boxes. You can also build your own from a few scraps of wood using simple free plans like these from Construct 101. Use untreated lumber that is weather-resistant, like cedar, and skip the paint or varnish, since those odors can drive birds away.

Cardinals may or may not choose to nest in these boxes, but even if they don’t, ledges like this offer shelter for a variety of birds in inclement weather. That alone makes them worth a try, whether or not redbirds choose to raise a family in your backyard!

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find he reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.