Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi)
Order: Strigiformes, Family: Strigidae
The elf owl is the smallest owl in North America.
It is the size of a sparrow, with a rounded head and body. It has a short tail, sturdy unfeathered legs and big yellow eyes.
With a wingspan of 9 inches, the elf owl measures 5 to 6 inches tall and weighs 1 to 1.4 ounces.
It has pale, grayish-brown plumage with a row of white spots and white and buff barring on its flight feathers. Its face has no marks except for thin, pale eyebrow lines.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
- The elf owl is the smallest owl in North America.
- It is the size of a sparrow, with a rounded head and body. It has a short tail, sturdy unfeathered legs and big yellow eyes.
- With a wingspan of 9 inches, the elf owl measures 5 to 6 inches tall and weighs 1 to 1.4 ounces.
- It has pale, grayish-brown plumage with a row of white spots and white and buff barring on its flight feathers. Its face has no marks except for thin, pale eyebrow lines.
- The elf owl inhabits eastern and western parts of Mexico and southern New Mexico. In the summer, it migrates to southern Texas and Arizona, and lower California.
- It lives in cactus deserts, forested areas, dry grasslands and wet savanna.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- Elf owls eat crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles and centipedes, as well as lizards and, on rare occasion, small birds.
- Elf owls get their water from the insects they eat.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
- The elf owl is a neotropical migrant; it winters in central and southern Mexico, then flies to the southwestern United States to nest and raise young.
- Elf owls nest in holes within cacti or trees made naturally or by other animals; they sometimes rest in the same spot as a woodpecker.
- The elf owl spends most of the day hiding within its nest; it hunts at dusk and during the night.
- Females lay between two and five eggs, during April and May. The eggs are tiny (the size of jellybeans), and hatch after a two-week incubation period.
- Only females handle incubation, but both parents are involved in the feeding process once the chicks hatch. The chicks eat insects and remain dependent on the parents for some time after leaving the nest.
VI. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
- The elf owl calls very loudly, giving a series of about a half-dozen yelping notes in quick succession. If discovered while calling, an elf owl will sit upright without moving, trying to look like a broken stump and relying on its natural camouflage.
VII. POPULATION STATUS:
- Elf owls provide food for larger owls, hawks, snakes and some mammals.
VIII. MORE FACTS ABOUT ELF OWLS:
- The loss of critical habitat threatens the elf owl's survival.
- As utility companies replace overhead electric lines with underground facilities, the removal of power poles may impact the breeding population of the elf owl.
- During the last 100 years, the redirection of rivers for agricultural purposes has destroyed much of the elf owl's range. Erosion and changes in water levels affect its remaining habitat.
- The elf owl vies for the title of the world's smallest owl with the least pygmy owl and the long-whiskered owlet.
- It is one of the most common owls in southern Arizona.
- In Arizona, the elf owl is dependent upon cavities made by the ladder-backed woodpecker for its nest site. Because of the scarcity of trees, the woodpecker uses fence posts, yucca stalks, dead tree limbs and power poles.