This morning when I opened the door to our deck, I was reminded that northern cardinals don’t subsist on black oil sunflower seeds, white millet and other seeds offered in feeder. alone.

       The reason I say this is when I stepped onto the deck I flushed a male cardinal plucking the bright lavender fruit displayed on the branches of an American beautyberry protruding through the spaces in the rail of the deck. 

       Off to my right I spotted a female cardinal clinging to the spire of a scarlet sage plant growing in a large container sitting on the deck.  Although a few red blossoms remained at the top of the stem, the cardinal was plucking seeds found in the brown seed pods attached below the red blooms.

       Such sightings are not rare occurrences.  My wife and I frequently watch cardinals eating the seeds of globe amaranth, scarlet sage, zinnia and other plants growing on our deck. 

       Studies have found that seed-eating birds that visit our feeder obtain only about 20 percent of their food from our feeders. In this case, three nearby feeders were stocked with sunflower seeds.  Those seeds are very accessible and much larger than the seeds and berries the birds chose to eat.

       Over the years, I have modified my opinion of what constitutes bird feeding. Instead of looking at it a simply providing food in feeders, I now consider bird feeding to include planting flowering plants that produce seeds, fruits and berries and attract insects and other invertebrates. In an effort to make these seeds available into the winter, I do not cut the plants down after their flowers wither and die.




  1. I’ve been seeing a female Summer Tanager several times in my yard recently, but she usually moves so quickly that I’ve not been able to get a picture. Today, she finally stayed a while eating the grape jelly, and I got several pictures!! I’m having the glass in all 17 windows in the solarium replaced. They are so clear today that it looks like there is no glass at all!! I do have beautyberry plants in my yard, but have not seen any birds eating the berries. I pray you both are well!! Rosanne

  2. Interesting article, Terry. I’ve observed cardinals leaping up to take gomphrena seeds and also gleaning crepe myrtle seeds. Certainly it’s a good thing to leave various flowers for birds after they wither and die.

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