Elf Owl Micrathene whitneyi

  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Polytypic: 4 subspecies
  • Authors: Donna Molfetto and Phillip Howard



Like screech-owls (Megascops), Elf Owl forages with a sit-and-wait strategy. For its nocturnal hunting strikes, these owls employ uniform rapid wingbeats in straight-line flight, but more arced flight is employed around the nest and between perches (Henry and Gehlbach 1999). Elf Owl is most active at dusk and before dawn (Henry and Gehlbach 1999).


Male Elf Owls establish territories around a nesting site before females arrive (Johnsgard 1988). Territories are rather small, with the maximum foraging distance observed by one researcher being only 70 m (Johnsgard 1988). Males defend more than one nest cavity; alternates are used for roosting or in the event of an unsuccessful breeding attempt (Henry and Gehlbach 1999). Both sexes defend the nest with song, but territoriality diminshes by mid-June (Henry and Gelbach 1999). Nine radio-tracked owls used a territory about one ha, though smaller ranges with up to 20% overlap have been documented as well (Henry and Gelbach 1999).

Sexual Behavior

Only one case of polygyny is known; the elf owl is usually monogamous (Blackhouse 2008).

Social and interspecific behavior

Sociality is limited to mated pairs during nesting, though they will join with nearby pairs to mob predators. Occasionally, Elf Owls can be found in small groups or in flocks during migration (Henry and Gelbach 1999).

Recommended Citation

Molfetto, D. and P. Howard (2013). Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.elfowl.01