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Elf Owl with Grasshopper

I felt to lucky that we got to see this tiny Elf Owl (micrathene whitneyi), while on a trip to Arizona. We saw two different ones, actually — the first time up a canyon where we heard them and then suddenly saw one fly but I wasn’t able to get a picture, and then later, we met someone who actually had them nesting in a tall wooden pole in his back yard. We saw the owl fly out of the pole and then, after a moment of “where did he go?”, we found him in this tree, holding a grasshopper in one talon — a decent meal for this tiny owl! These owls really are tiny — about the size of a sparrow(!), and yet they are raptors and kill to eat!

From “Most prey is captured in flight as Elf Owls are very maneuverable in flight. They hunt mainly by flying out from perches on trees, shrubs, or cacti to hawk flying insects or by flying over open ground. Virtually all prey are arthropods – mainly insects and scorpions, although they likely take the odd mouse or small bird also. Other common foods include grasshoppers, caterpillars, centipedes, and cicadas. Around April, Males attract females to potential nest sites by calling from a cavity, then flying out while singing, as she approaches. On moonlit nights calling occurs continuously all night. The female selects the nest cavity and begins to roost in it prior to laying eggs to prevent occupation by other hole-nesting birds. Elf Owls are entirely dependent on woodpecker cavities for nest sites, both in cacti and deciduous trees, so there is some competition with nesting woodpeckers over cavities.”

Photo taken on May 2, 2017, in Green River, Arizona

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