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
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
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 www.mobirds.org 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
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
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
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
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.
The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
List archives: https://po.missouri.edu/archives/mobirds-l.html