Let’s figure out some of the most fascinating elf owl facts including elf owl habitat, diet, and reproduction. The elf owl (Micrathene whitneyi) is the smallest owl species that belongs to the family of Strigidae. These owls typically breed all throughout the range of southwestern United States and Mexico. They are of similar length as of Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl. The elf owl weighs around 40 g (1.4 oz) and they can grow to a size of 12.5 – 14.5 cm (4.7 – 5.5 inches).
The male and female dash around trees whilst calling back and forth. They are known for their short tails. The elf owl displays brownish-grey plumage together with the round heads lacking ear tufts. There are buffy marking on the forehead and wings. Besides, an asymmetrical white stripe running down the scapular feathers.
They have relatively long wings and short tail which is banded with the 3 – 5 flat pale hoops. At present, these owls are not listed as endangered species and are fairly common in most of its range. However, elf owls are dependent on the nesting site of woodpeckers and a considerable supply of insects. The population faced a drastic decline in Arizona and California perhaps due to habitat destruction. On the positive side, the elf owls are increasing in New Mexico and Texas.
Amazing Elf Owl Facts
- The elf owl is the smallest owl species in the world with the length measuring at 5 – 6 inches. This is roughly the size of a house sparrow. The length of these species measure around 12.5 – 14.5 cm (4.7 – 5.5 inches).
- The weight of the male elf owl is up to 36 – 44 grams while females weigh around 41 – 48 grams.
- They have a wingspan measuring at 27 cm (10.6 inches).
- Like typical owls, elf owl is a nocturnal species. They take a bat-like flight but not variable. These owls erect its body when there is threat nearby. They are not aggressive species and will sooner fly off rather than confronts.
- Elf owls are recognized by their unique vocalisations. The males are known to produce high-pitched sounds as whi-whi-whi-whi. They seem to call more severely in early evening and dawn.
- Thanks to the acute hearing sense that helps in identifying its prey in complete darkness.
- Of all the owl species, elf owl is the most nocturnal species across North America. They will not active all throughout the daytime unless provoked. Elf owl spends daylight hours roosting and perching on trees to get rid of extreme desert heat as well as to avoid large birds of prey.
- After finishing off their first meal, elf owls repeatedly scan over the ground to observe any type of flying insects. It flies down from its perch when the potential prey is spotted. With the help of its powerful hooked bill they can tear off their prey. The flight is not completely silent as typical owls usually do have, the beats can be heard when flying.
- Like typical owls, the elf owl has large feet together with pointed curved talons that are employed to kill its prey. They have a reversible external toe, enabling the bird to perch with two toes back and two toes forward.
- Although very small in size, elf owls produce a very loud voice that is an advertisement for guarding its territory as well as attracting its mate.
Read More: What Do Different Types of Owls Eat?
Elf owls primarily rely on smaller prey perhaps due to their weaker talons and feet. All prey is arthropods comprising of scorpions and insects, although they occasionally prey a mouse or tiny bird too. Other common elf owl diet includes small lizards, locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, moths, crickets, caterpillars, mantids, centipedes, cicadas, and fly larvae. They are capable to catch their prey during flight. Elf owls are also known to pluck insects from the tree branches and ground. The prey is torn into pieces before being finally swallowed.
Learn more: Owls Diet
When the breeding season arrives, the males begin to call females from nesting cavities or tree holes then flying out with a singing voice. The female reacts to the male’s song and flies into the nest site where both forms a bond and start mating. These owls typically employ abandoned holes of woodpecker as their nesting site. The cavity entrance is 3 – 10 meters (10 – 33 feet) high above the ground. The breeding season ranges from April to May in which females lay around 1 – 5 white eggs with 3 most probably. The eggs are laid with an interval of 1 – 3 days. The incubation period lasts for 2 weeks. The chicks begin their first flight after 28 – 33 days. The female alone contribute towards incubating. The nesting owls do not travel 20 – 70 meters (65 – 230 feet) apart from their site. The youngs are entirely dependent on their parents for food and will display white downy feathers. Biologists aren’t still sure about the amount of time these chicks spend with their parents after fledging.
The average lifespan of these birds is 7 – 10 years. They have few natural predators and that includes larger owls like great horned owls and snowy owls. Mammals are, however, not listed as their potential predators as they face difficulty in reaching out the tree cavities.
Elf owl is known to reside all throughout the range of arid deserts, thorn scrub, open pine-oak forests, deciduous riparian woodlands, adjacent tablelands, and mesquite at an elevation of 600 – 2,200 meters (2,000 – 7,200 feet). These owls can also be found in deserts that are abundant in giant saguaro so that they can find their woody habitats. Elf owls also live in mountain slopes, canyons, ravines, and plateaus. These birds can be found along the Baja California, southern Arizona, Central Mexico, Pacific Sinaloa, Socorro Island, and Southwest USA. They also inhabit in the upland Sonoran deserts, low plains, cottonwood, but it normally avoids regions that are covered with solid stands of pines.