• Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl

ELF OWL (Micrathene whitney)

Elf OwlMirror, 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.

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

  • 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
  • Height: Males 16-24 cm (6.3-9.4 in), Females 18-24 cm (7.1-9.4 in)

    Weight: Males 166g (5.85 oz), Females 194g (6.84 oz)

    Wingspan Both: 48-61 cm (18.9-24.0 in)
  • Range: east of the Rocky Mountains, from southern Canada south into Mexico

    Habitat: deciduous forests, riparian areas, parks, suburban areas

  • Extremely varied: insects, earthworms, crayfish, amphibians, reptiles, small birds, small mammals
  • Unique vocalizations: screeches, barks, hoots, rasps, chuckles, whinnies

    Males:  quavering, low pitched descending trill, series of quavering whistles

    Females: higher pitched; often duets with male

  • Nest Site: tree cavities, hollow trunks, stumps; also nest boxes, mail boxes, porch columns

    Eggs: usually 3-4, sometimes up to 7 eggs, laid asynchronously, one each day

    Incubation: 26 days
  • Nocturnal, often crepuscular, occasionally diurnal; hunts from tree perch, captures prey with feet, often kills prey on ground and eats head first before caching the body

Elf Owl Range Map

Elf Owl Range Map

Elf Owl Audio

Elf Owl Facts

Other Names: Whitney’s Owl, Dwarf Owl
Family: Strigidae
Closest Relative: Pygmy Owls (Glaucidium spp.) and owls of the genus Athene.

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.