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Elf Owl
A Reference for North and Central American Owls

 The Elf Owl is the smallest owl in the world. Only one other owl, in a small region of Peru, is close to this tiny. its small size, desert habitat and nocturnal nature make it easily distinguished from any other owl. Here you will find photos, recordings and a brief field notes section to help identify and enjoy this beautiful owl. A more in depth write up and range map can be found in its natural history page (the Biology link). To jump immediately to any of these sections use the Page Jump Links below.

Page Jump Links:
Photo Gallery
Audio Recordings
Field Notes
Biology

 

PHOTO GALLERY
Click on the thumbnail to bring up each of the Owl photos.

Elf Owl Photo

66K

Elf Owl Photo

68K

Elf Owl Photo

83K

Madera Canyon 
Arizona
May 2000

Madera Canyon 
Arizona
May 2000
Southern Baja California
Mexico
February 2001

Elf Owl Photo

59K

Elf Owl Photo

110K

Elf Owl Photo

84K
Southern Baja California
Mexico
June 2001
Southern Baja California
Mexico
February 2001
Southern Baja California
Mexico
February 2001

RECORDINGS
Click on the sonograms to bring up each of the recordings.

Sound File
57K
Madera Canyon
 Arizona
May 2000

Sound File
68K
Catalina State Park
Tucson, Arizona
May 2000

This is paired Elf Owls singing a duet. The set begins with a male's primary call and has the female adding a few calls (resemble the males primary call but generally softer and shorter).

Many of the Elf Owl calls are given by both male and female so sex may not be discernable. This is probably a female and what might be heard early in the evening as the owls begin to call.

FIELD NOTES
Elf Owl - Micrathene whitneyi

  The Elf Owl is not only North America's smallest owl but one of the smallest in the world. A nocturnal owl that is believed to completely leave the U.S. for Mexico in the winter. The owls tiny size makes it distinctive and not likely to be confused with any other owl except possibly the Pygmy-Owl, although it is about 2/3 the weight and 20% shorter in length. It also lacks the Pygmy's distinctive chest streaking and has a significantly different call. Since this owl is not normally active in the daylight hours it also would not generally be confused with the Pygmy-Owl except possibly at dusk and dawn when both owls may be active. its desert habitat also separates this from the Northern Pygmy although it will move into lower canyons as nesting territory becomes scarce late in the spring. Separated from the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl by its shorter tail and more grayish brown (rather than rufus) upper parts.  This is one of only two highly migratory species of owls in North America (the other being the Flammulated Owl) and both are also highly insectivorous. The Elf Owl has a horn color bill with a yellowish tip and edges and lemon yellow iris (eyes). This owl lacks ear tufts. Length is 5 3/4" (smaller than a House Finch) and the sexes are alike.

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