11 Reasons Cardinals Left Your Yard & What To Do About It

Inside: Discover the likely reasons why cardinals have left your yard or stopped visiting your feeder. More importantly, learn insider tips to get them back.

It can be frustrating when discovering the cardinals you’ve become accustomed to enjoying in your yard have suddenly left. Keeping them in and around your property is about more than making the area as clean and ideal as possible. Sometimes, cardinals leave to find a more personally comfortable place for them, and it has little to do with your yard and decorative choices. Other times, it has everything to do with your yard.

The reasons for cardinals leaving your yard are plenty. That’s why I prepared this detailed guide so that you can study review it and easily find out how you can improve your yard.   

If you follow my tips, you’ll have cardinals back in your yard in no time. And you’ll be able to appreciate their magnificent bright red like before – even during warm months when cardinals are less observed.   

Reasons Why Cardinals Leave the Yard or Stop Visiting your Feeder

While it is frustrating to see your dear cardinals go, they do not have to be gone forever, and you can draw them back in with just a few simple steps. While there are a variety of reasons cardinals have left your yard or feeder, here are the 11 most common reasons:

Cardinals left your yard because…

  1. Your birdseed is old or moldy.
  2. You’re not using the right food.
  3. There is no clean water.
  4. Your feeder is not cardinal-friendly.
  5. Your feeder is being ransacked by squirrels or raccoons.
  6. Your bird feeder is filthy.
  7. Predators are lurking.
  8. Your neighbors are also feeding them.
  9. There aren’t enough hiding spots.
  10. They’re napping.
  11. There are natural food sources elsewhere.

Let’s explore each of these reasons in more detail:

1. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because your Birdseed Is Old or Moldy

Birds don’t have a great sense of smell but they’ll know if your birdseed is old or moldy. When you leave the seed out too long and it’s exposed to rain, humidity, or snow, it loses its freshness and becomes repugnant to cardinals.

2. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because You’re Not Using the Right Food

The cheapest bird seeds that you see at the stores don’t interest cardinals. Cardinals’ favorite birdseed are black-oil sunflower, striped sunflower, and safflower seeds. Sometimes they’ll even eat cracked corn, mealworms, and peanuts. Cardinals have a strong beak, so hard seeds are no problem at all for this bird.  

3. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because There Is No Clean Water

Without a clean source of fresh water, cardinals will likely not want to spend much time in one area. They need clean water to survive and will not last long without a good source. Cardinals can drink dirty water but will choose the purest option when possible.

4. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because Your Feeder is Not Cardinal-Friendly

female cardinal perched on platform bird feeder
Female cardinal dining on a platform feeder. Photo by Tammy Poppie.

Cardinals prefer to eat off of flat, large trays. It is difficult for them to twist their bodies when eating, so being able to eat face-forward is the best option for them. If your feeder doesn’t have these features, it may be putting the cardinals off. 

I use the Woodlink Going Green platform feeder (see below).

5. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because Your Feeders Are Being Ransacked By Squirrels or Raccoons

Squirrels and raccoons are primary attackers of a bird feeder. Consider hanging your feeder from a bird feeder pole equipped with a baffle to prevent squirrels from ransacking your feeder. These animals may also impact your birds and cause cardinals to leave.

The Squirrel Stopper Sequoia bird feeder pole system has never let me down. In my yard, no squirrel gets to the bird feeder!

6. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because Your Bird Feeder Isn’t Clean

When a bird feeder is left unattended for too long, mildew and mold may grow and make the feeder unattractive to your cardinals. 

Mildew is white or gray and flat, unlike mold that grows and is blue, red, or green. Where there is mold or mildew there might be bacteria as well, and in this case, your feeder can become a source of disease. Therefore, not keeping your feeder clean can become a health issue for birds that use it.   

Cleaning your feeders regularly (at least every 2 weeks) can prevent mold and mildew from forming and keep your birdseed fresh and desirable to cardinals.

7. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because Predators Are Lurking

sweet looking cat
Sure, kitty looks sweet until you let him outside and his animal instincts kick in! Photo by Amber Kipp

Many predators enjoy cardinals for their meals. Cats and predatory birds are the primary predators of cardinals. If hunting cats are nearby in the neighborhood, cardinals will not ground feed and prefer to be high in trees or hide in a shelter.

When predatory birds like owls, hawks, and eagles are nearby, cardinals will prefer to hide in low-lying shrubs. Observe predators in your area and place your feeders in the best location to make your cardinals feel safe.

8. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because Neighbors Also Have Bird Feeders

Having an overabundance of food available may give cardinals plenty of choices for food. Having too many options may mean that your bird feeder is not their first or most ideal choice. Although frustrating, if your neighbors have cardinal feeders, you may have to choose more compelling or natural options.

9. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because There Is Not Enough Shrubbery or Trees

Cardinals need protective shade and prefer trees and tall shrubbery that can keep them away from ground-lurking predators like cats. Cardinals will not spend much time in your area if there is not enough protection.

A manicured lawn may look aesthetically pleasing, but it is counteractive to attracting Cardinals who are trying to lay low, out of the sight of potential predators. 

10. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because Cardinals Are Napping

Cardinals usually do most of their foraging for food in the earlier hours of the morning. So if you are routinely filling your feeder up in the afternoon, you may be missing them due to a scheduling conflict. 

You will also have a higher chance of spotting them if you watch your yard earlier in the morning. Sometimes, Cardinals haven’t left your yard, per se, you’re just missing them. 

11. Cardinals Left Your Yard Because There Are Natural Foods in the Area

cardinals eat crickets in summer
Cardinals enjoy natural sources of food in summer including crickets. Photo by Trollinho on Unsplash

No matter what time of year, if there are natural sources of food available closer to a cardinal’s nest, they will opt for this natural source of food rather than seek out a bird feeder. Natural sources of food include insects, fruit, and grains.

Where Do Cardinals Go?

When cardinals leave your yard, they may be heading for a place with fewer predators and warmer climates. Although this might be a bird feeder down the street.

Cardinals are native to the southeastern and northeastern United States. Sometimes, cardinals will even explore outside their territory during the summer months.

7 Insider Tips to Get Cardinals To Return to Your Yard

Although it can be frustrating when cardinals leave your yard, there are several things that you can do to bring back their interest in your space. It may be hard to pinpoint why the cardinals have left your yard, but making a few small changes may draw them back.

Here are some easy ways to draw cardinals back in:

  1. Use feeders made for cardinals so they can comfortably perch while eating. I use the Woodlink Going Green (affiliate) platform feeder.
  2. Pick food like that cardinals enjoy the most including black-oil sunflower, striped sunflower, and safflower seeds.
  3. Offer water in a birdbath or other medium. In winter, choose a heated birdbath.
  4. Ensure bird feeders are never empty. I have my birdseed setup on auto-ship so I never run out. I’ve partnered with Chewy.com so you can get 35% off your first auto-ship order (affiliate).
  5. Use both ground feeding and standing feeders to encourage variety.
  6. Offer plenty of shelter options nearby such as dense shrubs and trees so they can quickly hide from predators.
  7. Use a bird feeder pole system to prevent squirrels and raccoons from ransacking the food. I use the Squirrel Stopper Sequoia (affiliate) and have never had anything but a bird get to my feeders.

Conclusion

Cardinals are complex birds. Although they may enjoy your home and garden for a time, cardinals may move on to other areas, especially if your feeder is often empty or there aren’t enough natural food sources nearby.

Consider creating a consistent feeding schedule and exchange old birdseed for fresh food.

Additionally, check any camera feeds or patrol the area to see if there are any predators nearby. Cardinals may not find the birdseed in your yard to be worth the risk of running into a predator.

In time and with a little bit of effort, you can have cardinals fluttering around your home again!

More than 20 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers.