11 facts about elf owls, the smallest owls in the world

elf owl
CC BY 2.0 Dominic Sherony/Flickr

No bigger than a sparrow and weighing less than a golf ball, these dainty birds of prey are not your average owl.

Owls are amazing. They are majestic creatures that rule the forest at night, their formidable silhouettes silently slinking and soaring through the trees. They are the original badass birds.

And then there's the elf owl.

While they are still stealthy little hunters, as their name suggests, these pixie owls are tiny – no bigger than a sparrow, in fact. And since somebody has to hold the title, it might as well be them: They are the smallest owls on the planet. Here's what to know out these petite birds of prey.

1. They really are small
Also known to the birding and science set as Micrathene whitneyi, elf owls reach a wee length of only five inches tall – the size of a songbird – and their wingspan is a cute nine inches long.

2. They weigh next to nothing
All birds are relatively light, all the better to get off the ground. The elf owl is no exception, weighing in at one to one and a half ounces. By comparison, the largest owl on record, the eagle owl (Bubo bubo), weighs in at four to eight pounds.

3. They've joined the tiny home movement
Elf owls can be found in the southern states, favoring saguaro deserts and wooded canyons. They most commonly make their homes in woodpecker holes in saguaro cactus, mesquite, sycamores and manmade structures like telephone poles.

4. Insects beware
While the bigger members of the owl family eat small mammals, these little cousins are agile hunters of insects – moths, beetles, and crickets, as well as katydids and other insects active at night.

5. They're skilled in food prep
They also feed on spiders on scorpions. And they know how to remove the scorpio's stinger before digging in or feeding the catch to their young.

6. They are unique in their migrating habits
Because they rely on insects, which decrease in the cool winter nights, elf owls are one of only two species to migrate. Arizona elf owls generally arrive in March and leave in September for their Mexico wintering grounds.

7. They flock?!
By some accounts, they occasionally migrate in flocks. Can you imagine a flock of songbird-sized owls journeying together? (Adds "See a flock of elf owls" to bucket list.)

8. They can put on an act
Unlike larger owls who wouldn't think of backing down in a fight, when the elfin elf owl is captured or cornered, it plays dead. Awww.

9. They are in decline
Their numbers have declined due to habitat loss thanks to residential and agricultural development. Meanwhile, riparian areas in their range are being compromised with water being diverted for agriculture and household use. With only about 150,000 individuals remaining, the species is listed as endangered in California.

10. They impress with real estate
During mating season, males woo females by singing loudly from within their nest holes, luring would-be partners to check out their digs.

11. Their hoot is a hoot
And as one might expect, they have the cutest call ever. They sound like they are laughing, and come to think of it, given their name, maybe they are.

Sources: Audubon, American Bird Conservancy, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

11 facts about elf owls, the smallest owls in the world
No bigger than a sparrow and weighing less than a golf ball, these dainty birds of prey are not your average owl.

Related Content on Treehugger.com