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Elf owl

Micrathene whitneyi

(Photo from Wangchao)

Common name:
elf owl (en); mocho-duende (pt); chevêchette des saguaros (fr); mochuelo de los saguaros (es); elfenkauz (de)

Order Strigiformes
Family Strigidae

These North American birds are found in desert and arid areas of western Mexico and the southern United States, in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and south-eastern California.

These tiny owls are 12,5-14 cm long and have a wingspan of about 27 cm. They weigh 35-55 g.

The elf owl is mostly found in arid deserts overgrown with saguaro cacti, thorny scrublands, and mesquite or deciduous riparian woodlands along rivers and streams. They are also found in temperate and moist forests and dry savannas within their range. These birds are present from sea level up to an altitude of 2.200 m.

They mainly hunt scorpions and insects such as grasshoppers, locusts, mantids, fly larvae, caterpillars, centipedes, and cicadas. Also some small rodents and birds and occasionally small lizards and snakes.

Elf owls breed in April-July. They are typically monogamous and nest exclusively in old woodpecker cavities, either on trees or cacti, 3-10 m above the ground. The female lays 1-5 white eggs, which she incubates alone for 21-24 days while the male brings her food. The chicks are fed by the female with food the male brings to the nest. They fledge 28-33 days after hatching. Each pair raises a single brood per year.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has a relatively large breeding range and a global population estimated at 190.000 individuals. The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction through deforestation. They are very dependent on woodpecker holes for nesting, so declines in woodpecker populations within their range will also have a negative impact on the elf owl.

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