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Elf in the Saguaro.

From a hole high inside a giant saguaro (suh-GWAR-oh) cactus, a tiny brown bird with round yellow eyes looks down on the desert countryside. A roadrunner dashes across the sand. A coyote stretches its legs after its afternoon nap. The bird is awake now that night is coming, and its eyes miss nothing.

This tiny bird that makes its home in the huge saguaro cactus is an elf owl. These owls are five and one-half inches long (about the size of a sparrow), and they are the smallest kind of owl in the world. Their wingspan is only about fifteen inches.

Elf owls are small, so they hunt insects, spiders, scorpions, and centipedes, which live in the hot deserts of the southwestern United States. Only once in a while do elf owls manage to catch a mouse or lizard. Their quill feathers are not soft like those of other owls, so they make a swishing sound as they fly. Sometimes the creatures they are trying to catch hear the noise and escape.

One hunting trick of elf owls is to hang upside down in a large agave (uh-GAH-vee) plant and flap their wings against the blossoms. This causes the insects that gather there to swarm out of the blooms so the elf owls can gobble them up.

It isn't always easy for elf owls to find homes in the prickly saguaros. The birds do not peck out their own holes but try to find empty ones that were made by woodpeckers. Many times the holes have already been taken by screech owls or kingbirds.

Once a male and female elf owl find a hole that no other bird is using, they mate to begin a family. Soon the female lays three eggs the size of marbles.

When the young hatch, the adult elf owls are kept busy bringing food for their young. Even when the babies are just a week old and about one inch long, they eagerly eat the scorpions and insects that their parents give them.

Sometimes elf owls make chattering, yipping noises, hardly sounding like birds at all. But otherwise, they are rather quiet creatures, adapting well to their hot desert environment as they hunt the desert sands for prey, nest in the tall cacti, and raise their families.

As the cooler evening hours approach, round yellow eyes open and peer from the holes, for now is the time to hunt for food. As the moon sends down its light to color the desert world white, elf owls burst from their cacti homes on swishing wings.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:facts about tiny owls called elf owls that live in saguaro cactus
Author:Letchworth, Beverly J.
Publication:Children's Playmate
Date:Oct 1, 1995
Words:429
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