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Desert Diary
Birds/Elf Owl


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Imagine sitting around the campfire, an occasional bat flying just beyond the firelight. But wait--if you look closely, you may discover your bat is really an elf owl. It's not much bigger than a sparrow, and most people associate it with the Sonoran Desert, but it also lives in the Chihuahuan Desert, both in Mexico and in the Big Bend area of Texas. Many stay in one place, year-round, but some northern populations migrate south for the winter.

This tiny bird lives out its life in naturally occurring cavities or those excavated by woodpeckers—in tall cacti, trees, and even large flower stalks. The nest is simple, but it's enough to raise 2-5 chicks.

This little elf might be as mischievous as its name suggests. Perhaps you'll hear the yipping or whining of a puppy not far from your camp, but don't worry about this little lost waif. Upon closer inspection, you may realize that the culprit is a tiny owl, perched not far from your shoulder. The desert can, indeed, be full of surprises.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Kodi R. Jeffery, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Elf Owl found 19 Nov 1991 in central El Paso, TX. Photograph by John Sproul.



Bryan, K., et al. 1995. A Checklist of Texas Birds. Technical Series No. 32. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Natural Resource Program. Austin, Texas.

Koniz, C., F. Weick, and J. Becking. 1999. Owls, a Guide to the Owls of the World. Yale University Press.

Oberholser, H. B. 1974. The Bird Life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Peterson, J., and B. R. Zimmer. 1998. Birds of the Trans Pecos. University of Texas Press, Austin, 184 pp.

Web Resources

BISON-M. A wealth of information, centered on New Mexico.

The OWL Pages