Elf owl

The smallest owl in the entire world

Dominic Sherony

Elf owl


The smallest owl in the entire world

Population 200,000

Elf owl is renowned for being the world’s smallest species and holds a unique place in the avian kingdom. With a charming, diminutive stature about the size of a sparrow, this owl is native to the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. The elf owl’s size does not, however, make it any less impressive; this tiny predator is an expert at adapting to its desert and woodland habitats.

These owlets, with their grayish-brown plumage, blend seamlessly into the bark of trees, making them masters of camouflage. Their legs appear elongated, which is particularly noticeable when they adopt their characteristic bow-legged stance. These long legs aid in agility, allowing them to maneuver and capture prey in the diverse environments they inhabit.

Elf owls are predominantly solitary except during migration, when they may form loose groups. This gregarious behavior is also observed when they engage in mobbing, a defense strategy where multiple birds will harass a predator to drive it away. During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs, and both males and females exhibit fierce territoriality. The male establishes and patrols a territory, which is then defended vigorously by both partners against intruders.

As insectivorous birds, Elf owls primarily prey on a variety of insects, such as moths, crickets, and beetles, which they hunt with remarkable acuity. They are also known to eat scorpions, showcasing their immunity to scorpion stings—a remarkable adaptation. Though less frequently, they may consume small birds, reptiles, and mammals as well.

The Elf owl’s hunting strategy involves using its exceptional hearing and sight to locate prey at night. They often hunt from a perch, swooping down on unsuspecting prey with silent flight, a trait facilitated by their soft-edged feathers. These owls are also opportunistic and will take advantage of prey flushed out by artificial lights in human-altered environments.


Population est.
United States

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No