“Animal”of the Day-Elf Owl


The Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi) is a member of the owl family Strigidae that breeds in the southwestern United States and Mexico. It is the world’s smallest owl, followed closely by the Pygmy owl. They are 5-12 inches tall and have a wingspan of 15-16 inches and short tails. Their primary projection extends nearly past their tail. They have fairly long legs and often appear bow-legged. They are 1-1.4 ounces.They can often be heard just after dusk or at sunset, calling to each other. Their call is a high pitched whinny or chuckle. The male and female dart around trees and call back and forth.

Elf Owls usually choose abandoned, north-facing woodpecker cavities in Saguaro cacti[2], sycamores, cottonwoods and other hardwood trees, to raise their young. There the female lays three round white eggs. The eggs are incubated for about 3 weeks before the chicks hatch. The young owlets fledge at about 10 weeks. Usually, chicks are born in mid-June or early July. By the end of July, they are almost always fledged and ready to set out on their own.

The elf owl migrates to Arizona and New Mexico in the spring and summer and in the winter it is found in central and southern Mexico.Migrant Elf Owls return north in mid-August or early May.

Elf Owls feed mainly on insects and therefore occupy habitats with a ready supply of these. Agaves and ocotillos are ideal places for foraging as moths and other insects may sleep in their flowers. Elf owls are known to eat scorpions, somehow managing to cut off the stinger. They are often seen chasing after flying insects, with a flight similar to a tyrant flycatcher’s just after dusk.

M. w. idonea, the subspecies in southernmost Texas to central Mexico is resident, as are the isolated M. w. sanfordi of southernmost Baja California and M. w. graysoni of Socorro Island, south-west from the tip of Baja California. That species later apparently became extinct in the 20th century, probably around 1970.


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