Songbirds and other wild birds need easy access to three things in order to survive. Providing these will transform your yard into a haven, encouraging birds to visit your yard and keep returning.
Though it is not necessary, you'll attract the widest variety of birds if you feed year-round, not only in winter. That's because different species visit feeders during different seasons. You'll also catch birds in different stages of life if you do so —for example, in spring and summer, many young birds will follow their parents to the feeder. It's fascinating to watch momma and poppa bird teach their fledglings how to crack open a seed!
You'll tempt the widest variety of wild birds if you use different types of bird feeding stations and bird seed. There are differences in feeding habits among birds.
Some songbirds prefer to feed on the ground, so a platform feeder works well for them; hanging feeders are suitable for perching birds and suet feeders work well for insect-eating birds. The type of feeder you need, then, depends on .the type of bird you want to attract.
Similarly, a basic seed mix is a good start for backyard birding, but adding specialized foods will attract a wider variety of birds. Black oil sunflower seeds attract the widest variety of birds that eat seeds and is reasonably priced in bulk. Watch for seed blends that contain common cereal grains such as milo, wheat, oats and rice — few birds eat those, so it's a false economy to buy cheaper mixes that include these seeds.
One of the most important elements to include in your backyard bird habitat is water, which is essential for both drinking and bathing. A basic bird bath is an easy way to entice birds to visit, but adding water features will encourage new bird species to visit.
Moving water attracts 10 times as many birds, so adding a dripper, mister or bubbler to create motion will encourage them to investigate.
Fresh clean water is even more important in the winter, when many of their usual sources are frozen. De-icers or heated bird baths are often recommended. Birds do bathe in the winter; keeping their feathers clean increases their insulation value.
Wild birds also need shelter to protect them from the elements and from predators. They also need places to protect and raise their young. Planting native trees and shrubs provides cover that attract birds, but if you really want to entice wild birds to take up residence, add bird houses designed for the species you want to attract.
Most so-called cavity nesters (species such as purple martins, bluebirds and chickadees) will use a bird house, but it's not as simple as "if you build it they will come." Birds prefer different nesting locations and house design. For example, bluebirds prefer to be near open fields, near the insects they eat. Purple martins like community housing; you've surely seen their distinctive apartment-style bird houses!
Bird houses also need to be the right size for the bird, with the proper size entrance hole. Hanging a bird house at the right height is also a factor. As stated earlier, offering a variety of bird houses, appropriately placed, regularly cleaned, and with nesting material nearby, will enhance your chances of persuading some winged tenants to take up residence.
If you have a good range of food, water, shelter and nesting sites, you encourage many kinds of birds to visit your yard and keep returning. Mix that with a dose of patience and good observation skills, and you're well on your way to experiencing the joy of observing beautiful birds at close range.
Visit Songbird Station to get advice about choosing the bird products mentioned here; if you bring a picture of your yard we'll even help you decide where to put everything!
Food and Feeder Preferences of Common Feeder Birds, from Project FeederWatch: https://feederwatch.org/learn/common-feeder-birds/
Great Places for Bird Watching in MO, from the Missouri Department of Conservation: https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/find/places?activitv=21135
10 Highlight Birds of Missouri, from Bird Watcher's Digest: https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/regions/midwest/missouri/ten-highlight-birds-of-missouri.php