Bird feeding during the winter is a good thing to help them get through the lean months, but to keep songbirds attracted to enjoy year-round, then consider feeding them year-round.
My wife is the birder in our family, and enjoys sharing meals with birds at feeders that are visible from the dining room table. From years of experience, here are some feeds that attract desirable birds without attracting bird pests such as starlings, cowbirds and grackles.
We have three feeders, all set up. One has black sunflower seed, which attracts larger birds such as blue jays, several woodpecker species, cardinals, mourning doves and the smaller titmouse and chickadee. There is also a thistle feeder for goldfinch, indigo bunting, and purple finch. Finally, there is a suet feeder. Suet can be bought at department and garden supply stores, and comes as a molded cake of animal fat and various seeds. A wire box feeder designed to hold the cakes is available and inexpensive. This feeder really attracts the woodpeckers and blue jays.
There are all kinds of feeder designs on the market, so find one that suits you, or find some good plans and build your own. For sunflower seeds, I especially like the one that holds a lot of seed and gravity feeds it to the birds through a bottom slot. Keep feeders high off the ground if you have cats, and in an open area where birds can see predators approach.
Mixed seed with millet is not recommended, as it tends to attract undesirable birds that can come in large numbers and overwhelm feeding stations. Black sunflower seed is preferable over the striped variety, as its smaller and has more fat. Buying seed in bulk quantities of 50-100 pound bags is more economical than smaller bags.
A water source close by will keep the birds around even more, and this is easy to do during non-freezing weather. So if you can afford the seed and enjoy birds, give year round feeding a try.
Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.