Skip to Content

Elf Owl

ID Info
Silhouette OwlsOwls
Elf OwlMicrathene whitneyi
  • ORDER: Strigiformes
  • FAMILY: Strigidae

Basic Description

The world’s smallest raptor, the diminutive Elf Owl, lives in dry thorn forests, deserts, pine-oak forests, and riparian woodlands of the southern border of the United States and Mexico. Like many of the songbirds in these habitats, Elf Owls nest in old woodpecker holes and similar cavities, which provide relief from heat, shelter from rain, and protection from predators. At night, Elf Owls emerge to hunt insects and other small prey, the male giving puppylike calls that mark its small territory.

More ID Info
image of range map for Elf Owl
Year-roundBreedingMigrationNonbreeding
Range map provided by Birds of the World
Explore Maps

Find This Bird

Elf Owls are strictly nocturnal, so listen and look for them on an outing along a quiet desert or canyon road at night. Remember that in the United States and northern Mexico, Elf Owls are present only in summer. They can be numerous in the right habitat, so listening for the yapping call is key. They also often hunt around lights that attract insects at night.

Other Names

  • Mochuelo de Los Saguaros (Spanish)
  • Chevêchette des saguaros (French)

Backyard Tips

Within their range, ELf Owls may nest in yards with plenty of trees, especially if nest boxes are provided. Visit our NestWatch project for details on how to build a nest box for Elf Owls as well as general tips for successful birdhouses.

  • Cool Facts

Need Bird ID Help? Try Merlin

Close Merlin