You have already figured out the key fact about birding technique. You find different species in different habitats. The key to knowing where to look for a particular kind of bird is to know what habitat(s) it likes. The key to seeing a lot of different species is to visit a lot of habitats.
Unfortunately, seasonal change complicates the process. Birding changes as the seasons progress. A habitat that will produce lots of new birds at one time of year will be a waste of time at another. That initially makes birding more challenging for the beginner. Eventually, it is what makes it a whole lot more interesting and worth doing all year long.
To get an overview of how birding changes from season to season in Missouri, I suggest that you read my series, "The Ornithological Year," on the Audubon Society of Missouri website. Go to and click the "EDUCATION" tab on the home page. Then click a month beside "Ornithological Year." If you want to start with December, click the link below:
December, of course, is the month for the Christmas bird counts (CBCs), which gets me to a method of learning birding far better than books. GO OUT WITH OTHER BIRDERS! The nice thing about a Christmas bird count is that the party to which you are assigned will cover all of the different habitats in its territory, so you will immediately begin to learn what birds are in what habitats -- in December.  I suggest that you sign up for as many CBCs as possible.
January is another good month for a beginner to learn from other birders. By the end of the year (except for the CBC), many birders will only be looking for relatively rare birds they have not already seen that year. But in January, everything is new again for the new year list. In a sense, we're all beginners in January. Once again, GO OUT WITH OTHER BIRDERS. You'll learn fast that way.
Incidentally, I have been birding for 61 years and I cannot ever remember a group that did not welcome a beginner. (A very small percentage of birders become royal pains in the ___, but that, too, only comes with experience.) Birders like to help beginners learn.
How to look for owls?  Like other types of birds, different species of owl like different habitats. Here are a few techniques:
Great Horned Owl: While driving rural areas, look for them silhouetted on phone poles and in bare trees at dusk and at dawn. From late January to April, check out old Red-tailed Hawk nests. There is apt to be a female GHOW in one of them. In winter, listen for their duetting during the hour before dawn. (Horned Owls often do not respond to a tape, however).
Barred Owl: Play a tape of its call (or imitate it) at any time of day in a wooded area along a stream. They not only hoot back. They usually come in to investigate.  Barred and Horned Owls are the easiest Owls to see. I can usually see both species on any winter day if I'm willing to work at it.
Eastern Screech Owl: Play a tape of its call (or imitate it by whistling) after dark or just before dawn. Stream crossings are the best places to try.
Short-eared Owl: Go to a large field of thick grass at dusk and look for them flying. (It helps to know that they are there.)
Long-eared Owl:  Search pine and juniper groves in winter.
Barn Owl: (rare in Missouri) Search sheds and grain buildings in areas where there is a lot of open country. I have only seen one in Missouri but can find one any day in parts of several other states, including Kansas.
Saw-whet Owl: (hard to find) Walk pine or juniper stands and look for white wash.
Snowy Owl: Wait for someone else to tell you one has been found and go there.
Good luck!
Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri
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