Laughing Falcon

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Image:LaughingFalcon.jpg

Common Name: Laughing Falcon
Scientific Name: Herpetotheres cachinnans

Size: 18-22 inches (46-56 cm); Wingspan: 31-37 inches (79-94 cm)

Habitat: Central America and northern South America; it’s range is from Mexico through Central and South America south to Amazonian Peru and Bolivia, practically all of Brazil, and northern Argentina and Paraguay.

It occupies varied habitats, usually including at least scattered trees. It prefers humid regions to arid ones and tends to avoid closed forest. It is found on coastal slopes at altitudes up to 1,500 m (4,900 feet), but it is absent from mountainous regions. It is generally not migratory, though in some areas it may make seasonal movements.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 500,000-4,999,999 adult individuals with a decreasing population trend. The population has declined drastically in some areas but is still common in others.

Diet: Mostly snakes (including venomous ones such as coral snakes) and lizards. It will also hunt, to a lesser extent, small rodents, bats and centipedes.

It pounces on its prey from flight, often with an audible thud. Then, it bites it just behind the head, sometimes removing the head in the process. It carries the food to a perch to eat. It may carry small snakes in its bill and swallow them tail-first; big snakes may be carried head-forward in its claws, as an osprey carries a fish, and then torn to pieces.

Nesting: Sexes are similar. Adults have a pale buff head, changeable between a more brownish and an almost white hue according to feather wear and individual variation. The broad black face mask stretches across the neck as a narrow collar, bordered with white. On the crown, the feather shafts are dark, producing a somewhat streaked effect. The upper wings and back are blackish brown. The upper tail coverts are whitish buff again, and the rectrices are barred black and whitish, ending in white. The underside is uniformly pale buff; there may be a bit of dark speckling on the thighs, however. The underside of the wing is pale rufous-buff, sometimes with some dark spotting on the under wing coverts. The tips of the primary remiges are barred with pale gray below, their bases are quite rufous. The iris is dark brown, the bill is black with a pale yellow cere; the feet are also pale yellow.

Immature birds differ little from adults; they have lighter margins to the back feathers, producing a scalloped effect. The light parts of the plumage are almost white, paler than in adults; the unfeathered parts are also paler. Nestlings are covered in peculiarly dense down, reminiscent of a duckling's; they are generally brownish buff, darker above, and already show the blackish facial marks of the adults.

The laughing falcon breeds in rock crevices, tree cavities, or occasionally in abandoned nests of a Buteo hawk or caracara; in general however it does not even gather nesting material in significant quantities. It lays one or two eggs according to some sources, but according to others always just one. The eggs have heavy dark brown markings on a brown or whitish or pale buff background. The young are thought to leave the nest eight weeks after hatching.The breeding season has been given as April and May, though it may well vary across the large range of this species.


Cool Facts: The namesake call often rises sharply in pitch in the middle and sometimes falls sharply at the very end, changing from a "joyful" to a "sad" sound, and rendered as ha-ha-ha har-her-her or haww harr herrer. The call series may be introduced by faster hahahahahaha calls suggestive of maniacal laughter, particularly when the bird is startled. Sound Link

The flight is slow with quick, shallow wing beats interspersed with glides. They rarely, if ever, soar. When landing, it will jerk the tail forcefully just like a wagtail. A laughing falcon frequently, and often conspicuously, stays on a perch for hours, sitting upright and observing the ground alertly, sometimes flicking its tail or nodding, or moving around a bit on its perch with slow, cautious little steps. It is generally peaceful and unlike other falcons will not harm smaller birds.

The Laughing Falcon is sometimes referred to as the Snake Hawk.


Found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume 5: Falcons, Hawks & Eagles

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