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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Elf Owl -- Micrathene whitneyi

RANGE: Breeds from southeastern California, extreme southern Nevada, central Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and western and southern Texas south to Mexico. Winters in Mexico.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Prefers arid, low elevation desert areas overgrown with cacti, mesquite, and creosote bush, or with agave, ocotillo, and cactus desert scrub. Also inhabits riparian cottonwood and willow groves; mesquite floodplains; walnut, sycamore, and oak woodlands; and juniper, pinyon pine, and oak woodlands up to 7,000 feet in elevation. Avoids pure stands of pine, but will inhabit almost every other type of dry, woody vegetation.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Abandoned woodpecker holes for nesting.

NEST: Nests in abandoned woodpecker holes, especially in saguaro cactus but also in agave bloom stalks, tree stumps, cottonwoods, mesquite, sycamore, pines, walnut oaks, or willows growing on mesas and desert slopes and in canyons. Nests generally 10 to 30 feet above the ground.

FOOD: Preys primarily on large insects but also eats scorpions and rarely lizards, snakes, and small birds.

REFERENCES: Heintzelman 1979, Karalus and Eckert 1974, Ligon 1968, Oberholser 1974a.

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