Elf Owl

(Micrathene whitneyi)




Facts about this animal

The Elf Owl is a very small, nocturnal bird, about the size of a large sparrow (13-15 cm long). It has a large, rounded head without ear tufts, yellow eyes, brown upperparts with white spots, and a brown and gray breast with white belly. The tail is very short. The sexes are similar in size and appearance.

It is a cavity nester and will occupy an old woodpecker hole in a large cactus or dead tree. Eggs are laid once every other day on the bare floor of the cavity from the last week of April through early June; most in late May. The females lay clutches of 3-4 eggs that are incubated by male and female for 14 days.

Its diet consists almost exclusively of arthropods (Insects, spiders...). Most Elf Owl populations are migratoy, moving south to Mexico in winter.

Did you know?
that Elf Owls breeding success is the highest of any reported for North American Owls (70% of all eggs laid result in fledged young)? This high rate of success is due to the difficulty that mammalian predators have in reaching nests, especially those in cacti.


Class AVES
Name (Scientific) Micrathene whitneyi
Name (English) Elf Owl
Name (French) ChevĂȘchette des saguaros, ChevĂȘchette-elfe
Name (German) Elfenkauz
Name (Spanish) Mochuelo de los saguaros, Mochuelo duende, Tecolotito enano
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Greg W. Lasley



Range South-west United States to South Mexico
Habitat Often in dryer habitats. It can be found in different kind of forests, arid lowland scrubs, Saguaro deserts, wooded canyons.
Wild population About 190,000 (Partners in flight 2008), but this species has suffered from loss and degradation of habitat, much of which has been converted to agriculture, and in some parts of its U.S. range it has become quite rare. Reintroduction programs to southern California have been met with mixed success. Habitat restoration in Arizona and New Mexico and elsewhere is underway.
Zoo population 6 reported to ISIS (2007)

In the Zoo

Elf Owl


How this animal should be transported

Owls travel best in completely dark boxes. Boxes should be slightly longer than the head to tail length of the bird intended to travel, and wide and high enough for the bird to be able to stand or lie down in comfort without banging its shoulders or head. A well made wooden box with no perches is required, with carpet or some other non slip surface fixed on the floor and a padded ceiling, with air-holes on either side. The easiest type of door to use is an upward sliding door at one end. The door can then be slid up a small amount; the bird visualised before being grasped by the legs, carefully, through the small opening before sliding the door fully open for removal. A handle fixed to the top of the box makes carrying easier.

For air transport, Container Note 20 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Greg W. Lasley

Why do zoos keep this animal

The reason for keeping elf owls is primarily educational as they are the smalles owl species of North America. They are also a good ambassador species for the conservation of their habitats, which are threatened by human encroachment and the deviation of water.