Tiny Elf Owls Fun Facts

Two Elf Owls On BranchElf owls, the smallest owls in the world, live in the Southwestern United States, central Mexico, and Baja California. Some permanent populations live in Mexico, though most elf owls migrate to the United States in the summer and Mexico in the winter. They inhabit holes that woodpeckers make in saguaros, most frequently. On average, elf owls weigh just 1.4 ounces and measure five to six inches long. Their wingspan is closer to 10 to 11 inches across.

Like most owls, elf owls are nocturnal. They mostly hunt arthropods like scorpions, beetles, centipedes, moths, and crickets. In urban areas, elf owls have been observed using outdoor lights as places to hunt moths. When hunting scorpions, elf owls remove the scorpions’ stingers before eating, although being stung doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on the owls. Occasionally, elf owls also eat small reptiles, mammals, and other small birds.



Small Brown Elf OwlElf owls are very vocal and you can hear them most at dusk or right before dawn. At these times, most of their calls are like a high-pitched whinny and consist of five to seven notes. Males have a larger repertoire of songs than females do. Their songs can be classified into two groups. The first type communicate information about the owl’s environment and have a lot of variation. The second type have less variation and are used for courting. Both males and females have a territorial call that sounds like scolding.



Baby and Mother Elf OwlElf owls are monogamous during the breeding season and, while the territory is chosen by the male, both partners will defend their territory. Naturally, elf owls build their nests in abandoned woodpecker cavities in saguaros and hardwood trees. In urban areas, they also nest in manmade structures like telephone poles. They clean the cavities out before inhabiting them. The typical clutch size is three eggs, laid in early to mid-spring.

While the female incubates the eggs, the male hunts for her. This continues after the eggs hatch after approximately three weeks. The male takes charge of finding food for the mother and the chicks, while the mother remains in the nest with the chicks. At 10 weeks of age, the chicks fledge and are ready to leave the nest.


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