Elf Owl

Micrathene whitneyi




Barn Owls, Typical Owls (Tytonidae & Strigidae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:


Number of Eggs:

1 - 5

Incubation Days:

14 - 24

Egg Incubator:


Nest Location:

10 - 50 feet above ground in sycamores or saguaros.

Nest Material:

In old woodpecker hole. No lining added.





Elf Owl: Small owl with gray-brown body heavily mottled with white and cinnamon-brown. Head is round and lacks ear tufts; facial disk is bordered by a thin, black line. Eyes are pale yellow highlighted by thin white eyebrows. Wings are relatively long. Bristly feathers sparsely cover feet and legs. Tail is short with 3 to 5 pale bars. Sexes are similar.

Range and Habitat

Elf Owl: Breeds in southwest U.S. and northern Mexico. Winters in central and southern Mexico. A resident population occurs on the southern Baja Peninsula. Preferred habitats include deserts, thorn scrub, and mesquite or deciduous riparian woodlands; most abundant in deserts dominated by giant saguaro.

Breeding and Nesting

Elf Owl: One to five white eggs are laid in an abandoned woodpecker hole in a tree or large cactus. Incubation ranges from 14 to 24 days and is carried out by both parents.

Foraging and Feeding

Elf Owl: Eats insects, other arthropods, small mammals, and small birds. Often hovers to spook insect prey into flight, and then captures it in mid-air.


Elf Owl: Advertising call of the male is a high-pitched yip, "whi-whi-whi-whi-whii." Calling is most intense during early evening and near dawn, on moonlit spring nights. Mated pairs may also duet, but the female's song is softer and shorter, often a simple "peeu" note to help the male locate her. Male also gives a short flight song "CHU-ur-ur-ur." When disturbed, both sexes will give a sharp "cheeur."

Similar Species

Elf Owl: Ferruginous and Northern Pygmy-Owls have longer tails, black eyespots on napes, and heavily-streaked underparts.

Relating to or living or located on the bank of a natural watercourse (as a river) or sometimes of a lake or a tidewater. 
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X