ELF OWL

Micrathene whitney

ELF OWL FACTS:

A small, grayish owl with small ear tufts, yellow eyes, and greenish-yellow beak

Males: usually gray, but sometimes occurring in a rufous (reddish) morph; bold chest markings

Females: similar to male

Young: gray or grayish-brown with less distinct markings on chest; inconspicuous ear tufts

OTHER NAMES:

 

Whitney’s Owl, Dwarf Owl


FAMILY: Strigidae


CLOSEST RELATIVE:

 

Pygmy Owls (Glaucidium spp.) and owls of the genus Athene

ELF OWL SIZE:

Height: Males 13 cm (5 in), Females 13cm (5 in)

Weight: Males 36 - 45g (1.4 oz), Females 36 - 45g (1.4 oz)

Wingspan Both: 22 cm (9 in)

ELF OWL RANGE:

Breeds southwest, US, and northern Mexico. Migrates further south to southwest Mexico during non-breeding season.

ELF OWL HABITAT:

 

Nests in abandoned cavities in saguaro cacti, but also found in wooded canyons and other semi-arid scrub-like habitat.

ELF OWL DIET:

Eats exclusively insects.

ELF OWL VOICE:

Similar to Whiskered Screech Owl, song is usually 5 - 7 notes, five to six notes per second; resembles a puppy dog yipping.

ELF OWL NESTING:

Cavity nester, uses abandoned cavities in saguaro cacti and trees for nesting and roosting.

Lays 1 - 5 white eggs, usually 3.

Incubation: 21 - 24 days. 

ELF OWL HUNTING HABITS:

Most active during crepuscular periods; primarily a perch and pounce hunter but known to foliage glean and ground forage for insects. 

ELF OWL CONSERVATION STATUS: 

Not globally threatened, though populations in decline in many areas due to loss of habitat in riparian and desert areas; almost extirpated in California.
 

ELF OWL DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICAN

Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Elf Owl - Denver Holt
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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: 

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, whoo is the smallest of them all? The Elf Owl, that’s whoo!

 

This tiny owl stands only fourteen centimeters tall; that’s about the size of a soda can! Its scientific name, Micrathene, actually means “the little owl” in Greek.

 

So where can you find this pint-size owl? Elf Owls inhabit desert environments, making themselves right at home with sand, Saguaro cacti, and scorpions. In fact, this tough little character will actually dine on scorpions… once it has carefully removed the stingers, of course!

 

Because of their size, Elf Owls prey almost exclusively on arthropods like scorpions, moths, crickets, beetles, and spiders. Water in the desert can be hard to come by; no problem for the Elf Owl! They get all the water they need from the prey they feed upon.

 

Tough as they may sound, these little guys are quite sensitive to disturbances in their habitat. Elf Owls rely on desert cacti and the trees in wooded canyons for nesting. They depend upon birds like Gila Woodpeckers and Flickers to tap out the holes they use for their nests. And of course, they rely on the desert insects for food.

 

Elf Owl populations in the United States have dropped drastically as desert areas have become developed for homes and agriculture. Many people think the desert is devoid of life, when in fact a desert is a fragile, complex ecosystem with a pulsing web of interconnected inhabitants. The Elf Owl is just one of the many unique creatures that call the desert home.

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PHOTO CREDIT

 

We are so grateful to the photographers who capture owls, and our work, in the most amazing ways. They generously share their work with us, and you. Check out the works of some of the photographers whose work is featured on our site! They are incredible talented artists who are committed to wildlife conservation.

Thank you to:

Kurt Lindsay: https://kurtlindsay.smugmug.com/Nebulosa/i-7D8Wh9d

Daniel J Cox: http://naturalexposures.com

Radd Icenoggle: https://www.flickr.com/photos/radley521

Melissa Groo: https://www.melissagroo.com

Ly Dang: https://www.nature2pixels.com

Tom Murphy: https://www.tmurphywild.com/

Deborah Hanson

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