There are two owls that are in competition for the smallest owl in the world; the Northern Pygmy Owl and the Elf Owl; either one could be classified as such depending on the individual being measured. The Northern Pygmy Owl is between 16 and 18 centimeters, while the Elf Owl is 13 to 30 centimeters tall. Pygmy Owls may suffer from “little man syndrome” because despite their diminutive size, these little fellows are fierce hunters and will attack prey many times larger if they feel threatened. Pygmy Owls are often mistaken for the shrike, another small bird of prey. They subsist mainly on small song birds and small mammals like voles and mice and can carry up to 3 times their own weight. Pygmy Owls are somewhat macabre in nature and can be likened to zombies in their love of brains; often the brain is the only part of a bird that they eat! It’s lucky this species doesn’t suffer from Mad Cow disease. They can be found on the West coast of North America starting at the Alaskan Panhandle and finishing in Northern Mexico. They are not listed as Threatened or Endangered with the IUCN.
The Elf Owl is not nearly so goulish. They live in the Southern U.S. and in Central Mexico, migrating between the two places. The like to live in woodpecker holes in trees and cacti and feed mainly on insects; including scorpions; talk about spicy! The Elf Owl is listed as Least Concern with the IUCN.