The elf owl is the smallest owl in North America. Adults are only about 6 inches long from head to tail. Distinctive characteristics include a short tail, a V-shaped white stripe above their eyes, lack of ear tufts, and reddish-brown coloring with a vertically-striped, buff-colored breast.
Like other owls, elf owls are nocturnal predators. Their diet consists primarily of insects such as scorpions and grasshoppers, although they will also eat mice and small lizards. During nesting season, males attract females by singing and then flying out from their roost when the female comes near. Elf owls typically lay 3-4 eggs during the nesting season. During the incubation period, the male will sometimes take turns nest-sitting with the female. Young elf owls are able to fly when they are four to five weeks old. When threatened, the elf owl prefers to fly away or hide itself by covering its pale underparts with one wing. If they are captured, elf owls will "play dead" until danger has passed.
In Texas, elf owls are found in the arid Big Bend and Trans-Pecos areas of the lower Chihuahuan desert. In the lower Chihuahuan desert, elf owls are totally dependent on ladder-backed woodpeckers Picoides scalaris for nest sites. They build their nests in abandoned woodpecker holes. Since trees are scarce, woodpeckers use fence posts, yucca stalks, dead tree limbs and power poles as nest sites. But as more electric lines are placed underground, significant loss of power pole nest sites could impact the breeding population of elf owls as well as other cavity nesters.
Elf owls are neotropical migrants. They winter in central Mexico and return to West Texas and other parts of the southwest to nest and raise their young.