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2017 June: Elf Owls In Riverside County

Elf Owl - Micrathene whitneyi

These sparrow sized owls are listed as “endangered” in California. It is believed that the Lower Colorado River is the limit of their range in California. That makes their presence in the Mojave Desert exciting. There won’t be any descriptions of nesting locations given in this document.

On the two evenings when I saw the birds, the babies would begin peering out from the opening, just after sundown. Half an hour later it was getting dark. Only then the parents would appear and begin feeding the young birds. I believe neither parent was staying in the same nest hole as the babies during the day. While I was observing babies at the nest hole, I could hear vocalizations of the parents a few yards away. I’m certain I would have seen the parents exiting the nest hole had they been with the chicks.

The young owls appeared to be as large as the parents. On both evenings when I observed the birds, I arrived about 6:30pm. At 8pm, near sunset the babies would peer out of the nest hole. It wasn’t until about 8:30pm when darkness fell that the parents would arrive to feed the chicks. Feedings occurred at intervals of 1 to 10 minutes during the one-hour I spent with the birds. By 9:30pm I would exit the area, leaving the owls to their own devices. Food items I saw being to brought to the babies included large grubs and small crickets.

Other birds I observed during my three visits to the nest location were: White-Winged Dove (heard), Ladder-Backed Woodpecker (good images), Ash-Throated Woodpecker (good images), Loggerhead Shrike (good images), Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher (good images), Hooded Oriole (fair images), Costa’s Hummingbird (I think), Red-Tailed Hawk (landed in the canopy overhead at sunset), Barn Owl (landed over my head in the nest tree), Anna’s Hummingbird (juvenile), Cactus Wren, and Black-Throated Sparrow.

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