Caught by the River

Matt’s Bird of the Week

Matt Sewell | 11th November 2019

Elf owl (Micrathene whitneyi) by Matt Sewell

The elf owl is the world’s smallest owl. At 12-15cm long, this illustration shows it life-size, and it weighs only 40g. Tiny! Pairs of elf owls nest in abandoned woodpecker holes in saguaro cacti, where they sing to each other with chuckles. In this high-rise apartment they have all they need – shelter, protection by needle-sharp spikes and food, provided by the variety of insects that visit the cactus and the nearby desert plants. If the elf owl gets into any sort of trouble, it will opt to ‘play dead’ rather than defending aggressively. It is a perfectly simple way of life. 

Length: 12-15cm

Where to find me: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (summer); central and southern Mexico (winter).


Taken from Matt’s new book Atlas of Amazing Birds, published by Pavilion and available to buy here, priced £16.99.