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Elf Owl

Elf Owl

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The Elf Owl is a member of the owl
Owls are a group of birds that belong to the order Strigiformes, constituting 200 bird of prey species. Most are solitary and nocturnal, with some exceptions . Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish...

Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

Typical owl
True owl or Typical owl are one of the two generally accepted families of Owls, the other being the barn owls . The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy unites the Caprimulgiformes with the owl order; here, the typical owls are a subfamily Strigidae...

 that breeds in the southwestern United States
Southwestern United States
The Southwestern United States is a region defined in different ways by different sources. Broad definitions include nearly a quarter of the United States, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah...

 and Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. It is the world's lightest owl, although the Long-whiskered Owlet
Long-whiskered Owlet
The Long-whiskered Owlet is a tiny owl that is endemic to a small area in the Andean mountains in Amazonas and San Martín in northern Peru. It is restricted to cloud forests with dense undergrowth and epiphytes at about 1890–2200 meters above sea level.The Long-whiskered Owlet is mainly brown...

 and the Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl are of a similarly diminutive length. The mean body weight of this species is 40 grams (1.4 oz). These tiny owls are 12.5 to 14.5 cm (4.7-5.5 in) long and have a wingspan of about 27 cm (10.6 in). Their primary projection extends nearly past their tail. They have fairly long legs and often appear bow-legged. They can often be heard calling to one another just after dusk or at sunset. Their call is a high-pitched whinny or chuckle. The male and female dart around trees and call back and forth.


Elf Owls usually choose abandoned, north-facing woodpecker
Woodpeckers are near passerine birds of the order Piciformes. They are one subfamily in the family Picidae, which also includes the piculets and wrynecks. They are found worldwide and include about 180 species....

 cavities in Saguaro cacti, sycamore
Sycamore is a name which is applied at various times and places to three very different types of trees, but with somewhat similar leaf forms....

s, cottonwoods and other hardwood trees, to raise their young. The female usually lays three round white eggs. The eggs are incubated for about 3 weeks before the chicks hatch. When they are born, Elf owlets are the size of a human thumbnail. The young owlets fledge at about 10 weeks. Usually, chicks are born in mid-June or early July. By the end of July, they are almost always fledged and ready to set out on their own.


They are often found in chapparal habitat, and are easily found during their breeding season. They live in cacti much like some birds, using the shade and climate the tree provides.


The elf owl migrates to Arizona and New Mexico in the spring and summer. In the winter, it is found in central and southern Mexico. Migrant Elf Owls return north in mid-August or early May. It is also known as Mae Rose.


Elf Owls feed mainly on insects and therefore occupy habitats with a ready supply of these. Agave
Agave is a genus of monocots. The plants are perennial, but each rosette flowers once and then dies ; they are commonly known as the century plant....

s and ocotillo
Fouquieria splendens Engelm. is a desert plant of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Common names include ocotillo, desert coral, coachwhip, Jacob's staff, and vine cactus, although it is not a true cactus...

s are ideal places for foraging as moth
A moth is an insect closely related to the butterfly, both being of the order Lepidoptera. Moths form the majority of this order; there are thought to be 150,000 to 250,000 different species of moth , with thousands of species yet to be described...

s and other insects may sleep in their flowers. Elf owls are known to eat scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

s, somehow managing to cut off the stinger. They are often seen chasing after flying insects, with a flight similar to a tyrant flycatcher
Tyrant flycatcher
The tyrant flycatchers are a family of passerine birds which occur throughout North and South America. They are considered the largest family of birds on Earth, with more than 400 species. They are the most diverse avian family in every country in the Americas, except for the United States and...

's just after dusk.


The following subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

 are currently recognized:
  • Micrathene whitneyi graysoni Ridgway, 1886 (extinct)
  • Micrathene whitneyi idonea (Ridgway, 1914)
  • Micrathene whitneyi sanfordi (Ridgway, 1914)
  • Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi (J. G. Cooper, 1861)

M. w. idonea, the subspecies in southernmost Texas to central Mexico is resident, as are the isolated M. w. sanfordi of southernmost Baja California
Baja California
Baja California officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is both the northernmost and westernmost state of Mexico. Before becoming a state in 1953, the area was known as the North...

 and M. w. graysoni (Socorro Elf Owl) of Socorro Island
Socorro Island
Socorro Island is a small volcanic island in the Revillagigedo Islands, a Mexican possession lying some 600 kilometers off the country's western coast at 18°48'N, 110°59'W. The size is 16.5 by 11.5 km, with an area of 132 km².- Geology :...

, south-west from the tip of Baja California. The Socorro Elf Owl apparently became extinct in the late 20th century, probably around 1970.

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