Picture a small bird, the size of a sparrow with brownish-grey plumage and big, beady eyes. This is exactly what the world’s tiniest owl, the elf owl, looks like.
These fascinating owls are only small in size, though. For instance, they can produce a large and wide variety of sounds to seem much bigger than they are.
Read ahead to discover more fun facts about elf owls.
Elf Owls Are the World’s Smallest Owls
Elf owls hold the record for being the smallest owls in the world.
They are tiny and petite-looking, with the adult owls not being more than 5-inches in length. The wingspan of an elf owl is 8-9 inches wide.
Being so tiny in size, elf owls are also very light weighted.
An average elf owl weighs around 1 to 2 ounces. When it comes to a size comparison, male elf owls are smaller than females.
Elf Owls Love Woodpecker Holes
Elf owls do not make their own nests. When it comes to nesting, elf owls are most commonly found in woodpecker holes in old trees.
If elf owls cannot find any old woodpecker hole, they may nest inside telephone poles or other similar spots.
Elf owls like to nest high above the ground.
Their nests are usually at the height of at least 20 to 30 feet, where their predators, such as snakes and coyotes, cannot reach.
Insects Are Their Favorite Food
Typically, owls prefer hunting small animals, but that’s not the case with elf owls.
Owing to their small size, elf owls prefer insects as their favorite meals. This includes everything from moths, beetles, scorpions to spiders and katydids.
Elf owls accommodate their food preferences according to the weather.
As the dry weather hits Arizona, elf owls look for moths and crickets. Similarly, they prefer feeding on juicy beetles in the summer, as they are more widely available.
Elf owls rely on juicy insects for most of their water intake. As they live mostly in deserts and water is scarcely found there.
Elf Owls Are Exceptional at Hunting
When it comes to hunting skills, elf owls will leave you surprised.
Don’t get fooled by their small size, as elf owls are known to be fierce hunters. They have amazing vision and hearing that help them hunt for prey, even at night.
Elf owls are also extremely fast in catching their prey. Whether they are in flight, on the ground, or hiding in trees, elf owls can easily catch them.
Elf owls are also known for their intelligent hunting tactics. For instance, when elf owls attack scorpions, they will first carefully remove the scorpion’s stinger to destabilize them.
Elf Owls May Migrate in Winters
Unlike the rest of their species, Elf owls are known for migrating, especially during the winter.
They move towards the south of Mexico in search of food.
You are most likely to find elf owls in flocks when they are migrating from one place to another.
Apart from this, elf owls in southern regions like California, Puebla, and Mexico stay put throughout the season.
No Ear Tufts
You can easily recognize elf owls by appearance as they do not have any ear tufts on their heads.
Elf owls are a mix of gray and brown with pale yellow eyes. Their eyebrows outline their face in a thin white line.
They Have Exceptional Night Vision
Elf owls have laser-sharp vision during the nighttime.
Even though they cannot see in pitch-black darkness, elf owls can easily hunt and make their way in dimly lit places. Moreover, they use their excellent hearing to attack their prey in the dark.
Their hearing is enough to locate their prey, taking full advantage of their skills when attacking.
In addition to this, elf owls are known to be ‘silent killers,’ which means that they can attack their prey in complete silence.
Elf Owls Are Found in the Desert
Elf owls are most commonly found in the Sonoran Desert region of the United States.
They prefer inhabiting woodlands where there is access to water or where saguaro cactus is available in abundance.
In addition to this, you can also find elf owls in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico.
Elf Owls Are Mobbers
Elf owls are known for their mobbing behavior. Sometimes small birds try to intimidate larger birds or their predators by ganging up on them to scare them away.
Elf owls are known for mobbing larger birds like the Great-horned owls, hawks, and Mexican jays, which are way heavier in size.
However, don’t forget that what goes around comes around.
Some smaller birds like American robins and black-throated warblers are known for mobbing the poor elf owls.
Hence, making elf owl both: a mobber and a mobbee.
Elf Owls Have a Short Lifespan
Elf owls’ life span is significantly shorter in comparison to their other species. If elf owls live in the wild, they can only survive for 3 to 6 years.
However, their lifespan may increase when elf owls are in captivity. The average life span of these elf owls is around 6 to 10 years.
As elf owls are so tiny and petite, they often fall victim to their predators, including snakes, coyotes, and large cats.
Male Elf Woos the Females
The mating of woo is just like conventional mating. The male woo puts in efforts by singing loudly for the females from their nest holes.
The song they sing is a specially designed tune for the females, beckoning them to be their partners.
The interesting part is that they keep singing their song in a loop until a female finds them. The male owl also offers food to females to tempt them and as a ritual for their official partnership.
Most Elf Owls Mate for Life
Talking about mating, some pairs remain together for life. However, for others, mating is exclusive and seasonal. They only mate for one breeding season and then leave.
Followed by mating, the female owl gives around five eggs.
The female owl solely incubates the eggs, while the make brings food for the female owl.
They are responsible for feeding the female for the first couple of weeks after the babies are born. After the initial period, the female owl also looks for food by leaving the nest.
After a month, the male and female owls, deliberately stop bringing food for the babies sothey may try to fly out of their nest and find their food.
Elf Owls Can Play Dead
Elf owls are very clever when it comes to handling intruders and dealing with their predators.
When they see someone closing in on their nests, they make a barking sound, clap their bills, and move their tails back and forth rapidly.
In a situation where a large owl will fight for themselves, elf owls have a rather funny way of protecting themselves. Elf owls pretend to be dead.
Elf Owls Have an Adorable Hoot Sound
If there is one thing that elf owls are widely famous for, it’s their unique and special hoot sound.
Elf owls are known not just for their petite size but also for their cute hoot calls, which is comprable to the sound made by puppy dogs.
Male elf owls make a unique hooting sound that is different from their female counterparts. Female elf owls make a hooting sound when a male elf owl is feeding them.
When they are nesting, elf owl pairs communicate with each other and their babies using soft whistling sounds.
Baby owls are known for their soft squeaking hooting calls. The hungrier they get, the louder their squeaks become.
Risk of Being Endangered
Elf owls have, unfortunately, become endangered in some parts of the world. This has been due to the rapid industrialization of their habitat.
They have been reported to be endangered in California since 1980.
In addition, their populations in southern Texas and some parts of the Colorado River are also steadily moving towards a decline.
Here, the habitat loss was brought about by the diversion of water for local agricultural activities. Some parts of the habitat were also destroyed to build residential areas.
Habitat loss in this manner makes it even more difficult to protect a species from endangerment. This doesn’t leave enough room for the rehabilitation of the owls.
This can be supported by the fact that all previously made efforts to reintroduce elf owls in their natural habitat failed.
Large populations of elf owls can still be found in Arizona. Their number has not yet dropped to be considered threatened by IUCN.
We hope you enjoyed reading these fun facts about elf owls.
We’re sure that next time you come across an old woodpecker’s nest, you might want to peep in to search for these fascinating creatures.
Stay tuned to this space for more informational blogs and bird-watching guides.
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