Cardinals will use a birdhouse that is open such as a nesting shelf that has 2-3 open sides for easy access. Hang your cardinal birdhouse during any season - at least 10 feet high - and use neutral colors. Keep food and water sources nearby but not directly around the birdhouse.
Unlike many songbirds, Northern cardinals don’t use traditional birdhouses for nesting sites. Since Northern cardinals like open spaces with 2 or 3 open sides, building a DIY birdhouse for roosting cardinals is pretty simple.
In addition to providing birdhouses, there are many ways to attract these popular backyard birds. Here we will cover the best type of birdhouses for cardinals and other ways to entice them to raise their broods in your backyard.
Best Cardinal Birdhouse Options
Cardinals prefer birdhouses that are made in an open platform style over traditional round-hole birdhouses.
They will roost in open-sided birdhouses provided a bit of greenery to shield them from predators. When you think of birdhouses, you probably picture the common 4-sided house with a pitched roof, a circular entrance, and a tiny perch.
While this type of birdhouse is great for many songbird species, cardinals will not use this house for roosting. When choosing your cardinal birdhouse, pick a style with at least one open side. Cardinals are much more likely to roost in your birdhouse if it is away from heavy bird traffic and safe from predators.
Watch our video and discover 10 facts about Cardinals you may not have known about!
Make a DIY Cardinal Birdhouse
You can make your DIY cardinal birdhouse rather than buying a pre-assembled one from places like Amazon.
Making your cardinal birdhouse is simple since they prefer a house with 2-3 walls instead of a four-walled house with a circular opening. A cardinal birdhouse needs to be at least 7 inches high, with 10 inches in height being optimal.
Whether you choose a pre-made or a DIY birdhouse, hang it 5-10 feet off the ground in or near dense greenery. The birdhouse should be turned, so the most protection is offered from the prevailing wind.
You can add some pine needles to the birdhouse to make it more inviting. Common nesting materials like dried grass clippings can also be used if you don’t have pine needles.
Materials for building a DIY cardinal birdhouse
You will need one 8” by 32” board at least 3/4” thick and one board that is 10” by 24”. Choose exterior-grade plywood, pine, cedar, or redwood pieces for your wooden birdhouse.
Avoid treated lumber since the chemicals are often harmful to birds. If you have reclaimed wood, as long as it’s not treated or covered in harmful oils or other chemicals, it’s fine to use.
In addition to wood, you will need short, thin nails or screws. Wood glue is another option, but nails and screws will hold up much longer outside. If you want a hand-painted look for your birdhouse, use non-toxic acrylic paints. Stick to natural colors like beige, brown, and forest shade greens.
While a brightly painted birdhouse looks nice, cardinals will be more apt to use a birdhouse that doesn’t attract predators with bright colors.
Instructions for building a DIY cardinal birdhouse
Follow our step-by-step guide to building a 3-sided DIY cardinal birdhouse.
This simple cardinal birdhouse can be built in a day and is ready to hang immediately! Step-by-step instructions:
- Cut your 10” x 24” board into 1-10” x13” piece (Backboard) and 1-10” by 11” piece (Roof)
- Cut your 8” by 32” board into the following pieces.
- 9” long (Floor)
- 2” long (Lip)
- 21” long (Sides)
- Lay 21” board flat and mark 10” from the bottom on one side and 11” from the bottom on the other.
- Use a ruler to draw a line from the two dots. This should create a slightly angled line.
- Cut along the line.
- Nail or screw the two side pieces to the outside of the floorboard so that the short side is forward and the high side is to the back. The floor should extend beyond the sides around 2” in the front and be flush with the rear.
- Attach the 2” by 8” in the front perpendicular to the floorboard to create a lip.
- Attach the backboard to the back of the birdhouse.
- Attach the roof, so it is tight against the backboard. You can cut the corner, so it is square against the backboard, or you can use a non-toxic silicone or Gorilla waterproof glue to seal any small gaps.
- Sealing all the seams with silicone or Gorilla waterproof glue will make the birdhouse sturdy and less drafty, but it will need to cure or air out for 1-2 days to be fully waterproof.
- Screw or nail your cardinal birdhouse to a tree by the backboard. Choose a location 5-10 feet off the ground in a well-planted area.
Should I provide a separate nesting shelf or nesting box?
Red cardinals don’t typically use nesting boxes.
While they use open-style birdhouses for roosting at night, they prefer to build their nests in brambles, thickets, and shrubs without being boxed in. You can build a simple nesting platform or nesting shelf for cardinals and place them in thick greenery.
While providing a nesting box isn’t harmful, cardinals are open nesters and likely will not use a cardinal nesting box.
If you decide to build a cardinal nesting box, it will likely be used as a roost by adult cardinals, or birds like wrens may move in. Swallows are also prone to using untouched nesting boxes. In place of a nesting box, here are a few ways you can support breeding pairs of Northern cardinals:
- Plant and maintain bushes, thickets, and vining plants throughout your yard
- Wait until October to prune back dense greenery.
- Keep pets away from areas where dense vegetation grows so cardinals feel safe in their nesting sites.
- Provide a wild bird feeder for cardinals, but make sure to leave at least 10 feet between the feeder and known nesting sites to avoid attracting predators
- Provide a bird bath or similar water feature
- Don’t use insecticides in your yard. Cardinals feed their young a diet primarily made up of invertebrates like spiders and caterpillars
- Use binoculars for bird watching from inside your home during breeding season, so you don’t disturb skittish parents
Is providing birdhouses for wild birds beneficial?
Just like feeding songbirds have been found to positively influence native populations, providing a safe backyard habitat for them to raise families is beneficial to wild birds.
As long as you are not trying to make them pets, your effort to support native birds is important to their survival. Rapid urbanization and the creation of recreational spaces are destroying habitats at alarming rates.
For some species of songbirds, backyard bird habitats and urban forests are the only things helping them survive.
While experts suggest as little human and wildlife interaction as possible regarding conservation, creating safe spaces for wild birds helps them thrive. Birdhouses, birdbaths, and bird feeders are simple ways bird lovers can support our feathered friends.
When is the best time to hang cardinal birdhouses?
Northern cardinals are non-migratory birds that stay in their home territory year-round, so you can place a cardinal birdhouse in your yard anytime.
It’s a good idea to place new cardinal birdhouses and bird feeders in the late Fall, so they have time to settle in before courtship and mate selection starts in late January.
The male Northern cardinal establishes his territory and starts courtship between the end of January and the middle of February. By the time mating season starts in March, the cardinal pair is already gathering material to build nests.
These beautiful birds mate for life, so once the iconic pair of red birds settle in, yearly broods will soon follow. The male cardinal starts gathering nesting material in the early Spring, and the female cardinal builds the nest.
Northern cardinals are great parents, with male and female cardinals caring for offspring.
Should I place my birdhouse close to the bird feeder?
You should place your birdhouse at least 10 feet from any bird feeder or bath.
Placing your birdhouse close to bird feeders creates too much activity close to the roosting and nesting sites. Having the cardinal birdhouse too close to bird feeders can also attract predators that eat eggs like rats, snakes, raccoons, squirrels, and foxes
You can initially place a few dried mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, or safflower seeds in the birdhouse to entice the cardinals. Once you notice the birdhouse, keep cardinal feeders, suet, and birdseed at least 10 feet from the birdhouse.
While cardinals aren’t likely to use birdhouses for nesting, a well-made birdhouse is a perfect place for Northern cardinals to roost year-round. Remember these important tips when building your birdhouses:
- Make sure the birdhouse has at least one open side
- Hang the birdhouse in or near dense greenery
- Choose birdseed with black oil sunflower seeds to stop house sparrows from outcompeting native songbirds for food
- Use platform feeders for cardinals
- Provide plenty of fresh water
- Choose untreated wood for your DIY birdhouses
- Paint birdhouses with non-toxic acrylic paint in neutral colors