Feeding in the winter does not stop birds from migrating in spring or cause them to become dependent on feeders. It does however, offer them a little extra help to survive the winter. We as humans are only supplementing their diet and rightly so as our intervention in the form of our cats, cars, guy wires, windows, etc., does cause populations to decline. High calorie food and a fresh (unfrozen) water source are important to birds in the winter.
Consider offering black oil sunflower seed in a tube or try feeder. The birds love it and it has a higher calorie value than regular sunflower. Suet is also a great choice. It can be used in cage feeders or even left on a tray. Peanut butter smeared on tree bark will be appreciated by woodpeckers and nuthatches. Even food scraps in the form of proteins and fats can be set on a tray feeder. The birds don't worry about fat like we do - they benefit from it. Their metabolism turns it into energy and warms their little bodies. Bread is not a good choice as it contains very little nutritional value and only wastes a birds energy digesting it.
A water source is a great way to help them through when everything is frozen. Heating the bird bath can keep fresh water available all winter. There are immersion heaters and baths that come complete with heating units. If this is not possible, consider putting a tray of water by your feeders in the morning, maybe even again later. Sure, it will freeze, but not right away. When the birds come to feed, they can re-hydrate too. Birds can get water by eating snow, but the process of melting and heating it internally requires a lot of energy and it can often do more harm than good.
With the coming of winter so come the winter birds. We have several winter visitors here that vary from year to year depending mostly on food sources available here vs other areas. While most of them quickly visit feeders others prefer tree seeds and other sources. And let's not forget our year-round feathered friends. They could use a few extra calories this time of year.
American Goldfinch and Pine Siskin flock together and will hang around most of the winter. They will visit feeders and enjoy thistle and sunflower seed. Dark-eyed Junco are here too. They fly "south" for the winter and end up here from their summer homes in the arctic. They often pick around the ground under feeders and will take suet too. Most winters bring us Common Redpoll with the occasional Hoary in the flock. They usually turn up later in the season so watch for them. Some winters bring us White-winged Crossbill, Red Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak and American Tree Sparrow.
And of course our local feeder birds; Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pileated, Hairy, Downy and Black-backed Woodpecker, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch and Blue Jay.
So put out the feeders, scraps and water. You can feel good as a human for helping nature for a change.
Female Pine Grosbeak
Hoary (left) & Common Redpoll
American Tree Sparrow
Chickadee & Downy Woodpecker