Does anyone else think owls are adorable? I think they are some of the cutest birds out there. You know what else is super cute? Really small things. So probably one of the most adorable things ever is the elf owl, the smallest owl in the world.

These owls live in the southwestern United States and in Mexico, where it is nice and hot and dry. They usually prefer desert habitats, although they can be found in woodlands and urbanized areas as well. Basically the owls are looking for somewhere to nest – in deserts they use holes made in cacti by woodpeckers, but they’ll nest in pretty much any vertical pole they can find.

An elf owl looking cosy in a cactus.

As I’ve mentioned, elf owls are small. The adults only grow up to 14 centimetres, and weigh 55 grams. That’s ridiculously small. They don’t look too different from the typical owl, being brown feathered with giant yellow eyes. Females are slightly bigger than males, although the difference is hardly noticeable.

Elf owls breed in the spring and summer, and are usually monogamous (although some a serially monogamous – they pick a new breeding partner every season). Females usually lay three white eggs, which hatch after three weeks. Elf owlets are beyond cute: they are covered in white fluffy feathers from head to toe. After a month, the owlets fledge, and start to try and fly. If their babies are lazy and don’t want to leave the nest, the parents refuse to feed them until they go outside. So a parenting tip from your neighbourhood elf owl: if your kids won’t go outside to play, just don’t feed them until they do. Or maybe that’s a really bad idea. I’ll let you decide.

An elf owl being held by a human, for scale.
An elf owl being held by a human, for scale.

Because they are so small, elf owls are limited in their diets. They feed mostly on insects, particularly moths, crickets and beetles. Some elf owls change their diet with season, eating crickets and moths until summer when they switch to beetles. Occasionally an elf owl will catch bigger prey, like a lizard or kangaroo rat. When this happens, the owl will cache its kill, to save the large amount of food for later. It is suggested that elf owls have a semi-symbiotic relationship with blind snakes and tree ants. When the snakes are put in the owl’s nest as food for nestlings, they sometimes escape and eat flies and maggots that would consume food caches saved for the nestlings. Tree ants are found in some owl nest sites, and attack any intruders, but generally leave the owls alone.

If I had to have a pet owl, I’d definitely choose an elf owl. I just don’t see how you could find a cuter owl. Though I’m sure there’s lots of wonderful species out there, I haven’t really looked.

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