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Elf Owl: The world’s smallest owl

An Elf Owl pauses on a branch in Madera Canyon in southeastern Arizona. Photo by Dominic Sherony (Creative Commons)
An Elf Owl pauses on a branch in Madera Canyon in southeastern Arizona. Photo by Dominic Sherony (Creative Commons)

Readers of BirdWatching in early 2013 voted Elf Owl the third most-wanted bird in the United States and Canada. Here’s what you need to know to add it to your life list.

Description, range, and population

DESCRIPTION. Less than 6 inches long and about 1.4 ounces in weight. Yellow eyes, white eyebrows, cinnamon facial disc, white spots on wings. (ABA Code 2)

RANGE. Lower Colorado River, from southern Nevada, eastern California, and western Arizona, east to the Rio Grande River in New Mexico; Big Bend region of Texas east to Edwards Plateau and north to the Davis Mountains; Dimmit County, Texas, south through the Rio Grande, to Nuevo León, Mexico; southern region of Baja California; and western Mexico.

POPULATION. Unknown; has been described as “perhaps the most abundant raptor in upland deserts of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.”

View a real-time eBird map.

Viewing locations

ARIZONA: Mount Lemmon, Catalina State Park, Madera, Miller, Harshaw, and Cave Creek Canyons, Bill Williams River NWR, Saguaro National Park

NEW MEXICO: Gila National Forest, Soledad, Guadalupe, and Clanton Canyons


TEXAS: Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley, Kickapoo Caverns, and Davis Mountains State Parks


High Lonesome Birdtours: Arizona Owls and Neotropical Specialties, July 13-20, 2013, July 12-19, 2014

Partnership for International Birding: Southeast Arizona Birding Spring Spectacular, April 13-20, 2014

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours: Spring Grand Arizona, May 10-20, 2014


Victor Emanuel Nature Tours co-sponsored by the American Birding Association and Leica Sport Optics: Camp Chiricahua, for birders ages 14-18, August 6-17, 2013, and July 30-August 10, 2014

Tours to watch for


Arizona BirdQuest

Arizona Nightbirds and More Field Guides

Arizona: Owls and Warblers Wings


Owling Outings Naturalist Journeys

Owls and Trogons, Arizona Borderland Tours

Southeastern Arizona Bird Treks

Southeast Arizona custom tours Tropical Birding


Chloride Canyon and Ladder Ranch Wings West Birding

Owling Outings Naturalist Journeys



Big Bend National Park Bird Treks

The Edwards Plateau and Big Bend Wings


About our poll

We wanted to know, and you told us.

Earlier this year, we published a list of 240 bird species that occur in the United States and Canada and asked readers of BirdWatching magazine to choose the 10 that they wanted to see most.

We derived our list from the authoritative ABA Checklist. We included all rare, casual, and accidental species (ABA Checklist Codes 3, 4, and 5); regularly occurring North American species that are not widespread (Codes 1 and 2); and one species that was once dangerously close to extinction but today is surviving in captivity and struggling to become naturally re-established (Code 6). We omitted most species not native to North America.

Nearly 900 of our readers participated. Their 10 most-wanted birds include three owls, a handful of endangered species, a clown-faced puffin, a blue-footed seabird that is rarely spotted in the United States, and America’s one and only condor.


We presented the 10 most-wanted birds in the August 2013 issue of BirdWatching. Our article included not only the descriptions, population info, and eBird maps above but also 10 things you didn’t know about each species.

Originally Published

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