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The Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi) is a member of the owl family Strigidae that breeds in the southwestern United States and Mexicomarker. It is the world's second smallest owl, the first being a 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 the trees and call back and forth.


They choose an abandoned woodpecker cavity and the female lays 3 round white eggs. She incubates them 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.


They raise their young in north-facing woodpecker cavities in Saguaro cacti, sycamores, cottonwood and other hardwood trees. They are often found in chapparal habitat, and are easily found during their breeding season.


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 Californiamarker and M. w. graysoni of Socorro Islandmarker, south-west from the tip of Baja California. That species later apparently became extinct in the 20th century, probably around 1970.


  1. Hardy, P., Morisson, M. (2001) The Wilson Bulletin 113(1)pp:23-32

  • "National Geographic" Field Guide to the Birds of North America ISBN 0-7922-6877-6
  • Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol 5, Josep del Hoyo editor, ISBN 84-87334-25-3
  • "National Audubon Society" The Sibley Guide to Birds, by David Allen Sibley, ISBN 0-679-45122-6

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