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Elf Owl Micrathene whitneyi


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Elf Owl
credit: Dominic Sherony/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Strigidae, Owls view all from this family

Description ADULT Has mainly reddish brown plumage overall; upperparts are adorned with buff spots, particularly on head and wings, while scapular feathers are tipped white; underparts are barred reddish buff and facial disc is flushed reddish brown. Note the yellow eyes and pale-tipped gray bill. JUVENILE Similar to adult.

Dimensions Length: 5 1/2" (14 cm)

Habitat Fairly common summer visitor to suitable arid habitats, particularly deserts with large, mature saguaro cacti and scrub-covered canyons; also riparian habitats.

Observation Tips Strictly nocturnal, but often peeps head out of nesting or roosting hole as dusk approaches. In breeding season, birds are extremely vocal at dusk, and on moonlit nights.

Range Southwest, California, Rocky Mountains, Texas

Voice Male's territorial call is a series of shrill and rather raptorlike wee-Ukk notes.

Discussion Tiny owl, the smallest of its kind in the worldómost people are amazed at just how minute it is the first time they see one. Size, compact shape, short tail, and association with desert habitats make identification relatively straightforward, even though many sightings are of nocturnal silhouettes; note the extremely rounded head. Call is also distinctive. Feeds mainly on insects, which are often caught on the wing; flight is rather stiff-winged and birds will occasionally hover while feeding. Nests in cavities, typically former nest holes of woodpeckers excavated in saguaro cacti and trees. Sexes are similar.