Elf Owl Facts and Photos

Information about the Bird 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 lightest owl, although the long-whiskered owlet and the Tamaulipas pygmy owl are of a similarly diminutive length. The mean body weight of this species is 40 grams (1.4 ounces). These tiny owls are 12.5 to 14.5 centimetres (4.9 to 5.7in) long and have a wingspan of about 27cm (10.5in). Their primary projection extends nearly past their tail. They have fairly long legs and often appear bow-legged. They can often be heard calling to one another just after dusk or at sunset. 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,sycamores, cottonwoods, and other hardwood trees, to raise their young. The female usually 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.
They are often found in chaparral, and are easily found during their breeding season. They live in cacti much like some birds, using the shade and climate the tree provides.
Elf owls usually are not aggressive and feign death in any dangerous situation, especially when a threatening animal comes inside their Saguaro cactus.
The elf owl migrates to Arizona and New Mexico in the spring and summer. In the winter, it is found in central and southern Mexico. Migrant elf owls return north in mid-April 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. They are often seen chasing after flying insects, with a flight similar to a tyrant flycatcher's. They also feed on scorpions. The elf owls seem to not be bothered by the scorpion's stings.
Elf owls live 3 to 6 years; in captivity they may live up to 6-10 years.
The following subspecies are currently recognized:
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 (Socorro elf owl) of Socorro Island, south-west from the tip of Baja California. The Socorro elf owl apparently became extinct in the late 20th century, probably around 1970.
An elf owl named Gylfie is a major character in the Guardians of Ga'Hoole book series by Kathryn Lasky, and the 2010 film adaptation. An elf owl plays a major role in the techno-thriller "The Elf Owl and Imagined Amenities," by Sam Biondo (Kindle edition), December 2013,ASIN: B00FY5491W.

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