Elf Owl

Elf Owl

Elf Owls are tiny desert owls that are team players that will band together to deter predators.

They are usually brown and spotted with gray, cinnamon, brown, and white, and they don’t have any ear tufts, so their heads appear round and big.

The Elf Owl is the world’s smallest owl.

They have pale yellow eyes bordered with thin, white eyebrows and short tails. Juveniles are grayer than adults but otherwise the same.

  • Micrathene whitneyi
  • Length:  5 – 6 in (13 – 15 cm)
  • Weight: ¼ oz (40 g)
  • Wingspan: 15 in (38 cm)


Elf Owls breed in southwestern US states and northern Mexico before migrating further south for winter.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Elf Owls primarily in deserts with plenty of giant saguaros or tree-like cacti that grow to over 12 meters tall. Aside from desert environments, they also inhabit thorn scrubs and woodlands near the banks of rivers or lakes with mesquite and other similar trees. 

Elf owls are nocturnal by nature, so they do their hunting at night. They have incredible vision and hearing, which allow them to catch insects in mid-air, pluck them from vegetation, like moths and insects that are found in agaves and ocotillos, and they also chase their prey, such as lizards on foot.  

They can even eat scorpions, but they remove their stingers before they swallow them.

Elf Owl Calls:

They make several calls, either softer when nesting or sharp in alarm. Males also sing a yapping-sounding series of notes.


Nests of Elf owls are in abandoned woodpecker holes in trees, in giant cacti, or in nest boxes and just leave it bare.

The female lays up to five eggs and incubates them from fourteen to twenty-four days. It’s the male’s responsibility to keep his family fed while the female takes care of the young. 

Attracting Elf Owls

Attract them to your backyard if your house is within their range. Place the nest box high enough (72-120 inches) and face it north or northwest. 

Fun Fact:

Elf Owls practice “mobbing” or grouping together with other Elf Owls to overwhelm predators like snakes, mammals, and other larger owls.