Raptor Identification

Micrathene whitneyi

Elf Owl

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation, Climate Change, Limited existing research
Group: Owl
Size: L 5-6 ″ / WS 10.5 ”


The Elf Owl is most famously known for being the world’s smallest raptor—about the size of a sparrow and weighing around 1.4 oz or 40 g. These birds are found mainly in Mexico but also range just north of the border in Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas during the breeding season. The Elf Owl occupies a diverse range of habitats in the US, including canyon forests, riparian areas, and places where columnar cacti are abundant. Elf Owls are cavity nesters, using holes left behind by woodpeckers and other species that create natural cavities.

Elf Owls are most active at dusk and dawn, when they hunt insects and other invertebrates. They are also active throughout the night. Elf Owls are known to hunt scorpions, removing the stinger before eating. They rarely eat small mammals and reptiles. 

Like most owls, you are more likely to hear them than see them and voice is the best way to identify them. 


  • Round head lacking ear tufts
  • Short, square tail


  • Direct flight
  • Rapid wing beats


  • Bold white eyebrows
  • Overall grayish-brown in color with blurry streaking below
  • White stripe above wing
  • Yellow eyes
  • Juveniles are grayer than adults


  • Their call is often described as a high-pitched chuckle or similar to the sound of a small dog barking.

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