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What color are cardinals most attracted to?

What color are cardinals most attracted to?

Cardinals are striking red songbirds found widely across North America. The bright red plumage of the male Northern Cardinal is iconic and easily recognized. Cardinals primarily eat seeds and fruit, supplementing their diet with insects when feeding their young. Their color vision and food preferences influence what colors they are most attracted to. Understanding cardinal color preferences can help bird enthusiasts better attract these beautiful birds to their backyards.

Cardinal Vision

Birds have excellent color vision due to having four types of cone cells in their eyes compared to only three in humans. Cardinals can see colors on the visible spectrum from ultraviolet to red. Their visual spectrum extends a bit beyond humans, especially into the ultraviolet range. Cardinals can see wavelengths down to about 300 nanometers, whereas humans cannot see below 400 nanometers. This gives cardinals a slightly expanded color palette.

The four cone types in a cardinal’s retina allow them to discriminate among colors better than humans can. Their eyes have cones sensitive for red, green, blue, and ultraviolet wavelengths. The ultraviolet cones give birds an extra dimension to their color vision. Having a fourth cone type allows them to differentiate similar colors in the ultraviolet spectrum. Cardinals can see differences among colors that would appear identical to human eyes.

Cardinal Feeding Preferences

Cardinals are primarily seed-eating birds. They have strong thick cone-shaped beaks perfect for cracking open seeds and nuts. Cardinals will consume a wide variety of seeds and grains. Some of their preferred foods include:

– Sunflower seeds
– Safflower seeds
– Millet
– Cracked corn
– Peanuts

Cardinals supplement their seed diet with fruits and berries when available. Some of their favorite fruits include dogwood berries, mulberries, figs, and grapes. Cardinals are also opportunistic foragers and will eat grains like rice and oats, pine seeds, and even mealworms when feeding nestlings.

Favorite Cardinal Colors

Cardinals use both their color vision and feeding preferences to choose food sources. When given options, cardinals gravitate towards certain colors that indicate ripe fruit or seed sources. Some colors that particularly attract cardinals are:

Color Wavelength
Red 700 nm
Orange 610 nm
Yellow 580 nm


Red is the preferred color of Northern Cardinals, for obvious reasons. Their bright red plumage matches their attraction for this color. Red signals ripe fruit to cardinals. Berries turn red when mature, making them enticing food sources. Red also stands out vividly against green foliage. Cardinals also associate red with potential mates, further increasing the attraction.


Orange is similar to red, signaling ripe, sweet fruit. The contrast of orange against green leaves also helps it stand out. Orange sunflower petals and cosmos flowers draw cardinals in to feed.


Yellow indicates both seeds and fruit to cardinals. The black oil sunflower seeds they love are encased in bright yellow hulls. Yellow berries like dogwood and mulberry start off green but turn yellow and then red when ripe. Yellow stands out strongly in contrast to other colors.

Using Color to Attract Cardinals

Now that you know which colors cardinals favor, you can use this to attract more of these beautiful birds into your yard. Here are some tips:

– Offer sunflower seeds in yellow mesh bags or red metal feeders
– Plant red native berries and fruits like dogwoods, viburnum, and winterberry
– Use orange and red feeders and accessories like trays or perches
– Mix red colored safflower or milo in with other seeds
– Incorporate red, orange, or yellow flowers in landscaping
– Use grape jelly in orange or red feeders to supplement fruit

The combination of enticing colors and prime food sources will invite cardinals to visit your backyard. Observe what feeders, seeds, and fruit the cardinals prefer and continue to offer their favorites. Soon you will have brilliant red cardinals gracing your outdoor space.


Northern Cardinals are attracted to the colors red, orange, and yellow. Their excellent color vision allows them to differentiate subtle shades in this range. These colors signal ripe fruit and seeds to cardinals. By offering bird feeders and plants with their attractive colors, you can bring more cardinals into your yard. Appeals to both their vision and taste will have cardinals flocking to your backyard. Take advantage of cardinal color preferences to enjoy more of these striking songbirds. With a little effort, you can have brilliant red cardinals visiting as desired backyard guests.