Family Typical Owls (Strigidae)

Least Concern

Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi)


French: Chevêchette des saguaros German: Elfenkauz Spanish: Mochuelo de los saguaros

Athene whitneyi

J. G. Cooper

, 1861,

Fort Mojave, Arizona, USA


Relationships unclear. Races whitneyi and sanfordi appear to intergrade in NW Mexico and S Arizona. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. w. whitneyi (J. G. Cooper, 1861) – breeds SW USA (extreme S Nevada, SE California, C Arizona, SW New Mexico and SW Texas) S to NW & NC Mexico (Sonora, NE Chihuahua, N Coahuila); in winter to W & SC Mexico#R.
  • M. w. idonea (Ridgway, 1914) – SC USA (S Texas) to NE & C Mexico (N Nuevo León, N Tamaulipas; Puebla, W Oaxaca); northern populations migrate S in winter.
  • M. w. sanfordi (Ridgway, 1914) – S Baja California (NW Mexico).
  • M. w. graysoni Ridgway, 1886 – Socorro I, off W Mexico (possibly extinct).
  • Descriptive notes

    13–14 cm; male 36–44 g, female 41–48 g. World’s smallest owl. Face and throat cinnamon to cinnamon-buff, supercilia white with narrow black tips;... read more


    High-pitched calls consist of 5–15 or more notes, reminiscent of yelping puppy; may... read more


    Cactus desert, riparian woodland, dry oak woodland, wooded canyons, mesquite (Prosopis);... read more

    Food and feeding

    Almost entirely arthropods, primarily insects and spiders, although young kangaroo rats (Dipodomys) and a small snake also have... read more


    Season May–Jun in USA, Mar–Aug in Mexico. Pair formation thought to begin as soon as female arrives at breeding territory;... read more


    N populations migratory, leave by mid-Oct, winter in N & C Mexico in areas with abundance of... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. In Mexico, fairly common to common, but local; no indication of numbers. Almost extirpated in California, where classed as... read more

    Recommended citation

    Holt, D.W., Berkley, R., Deppe, C., Enríquez Rocha, P., Petersen, J.L., Rangel Salazar, J.L., Segars, K.P., Wood, K.L. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 25 January 2020).