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Laughing Falcon
Herpetotheres cachinnans

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Laughing Hawk, Mexican Laughing Hawk (chapmani), Southern Laughing Falcon (cachinnans).

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Herpetotheres cachinnans
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Distribution: Neotropical. Northern MEXICO south on both slopes through Central America and South America from COLOMBIA west of the Andes south to northwestern PERU and east of the Andes through VENEZUELA and the Guianas south to northern ARGENTINA and southern BRAZIL. more....

Subspecies: 3 races. H. c. chapmani: MEXICO (southern Sonora, San Luis Potosi) south to northern HONDURAS; H. c. cachinnans: Caribbean HONDURAS and NICARAGUA to COLOMBIA and south to northwestern PERU (Tumbes) and central BRAZIL; H. c. queribundus: Eastern BOLIVIA and eastern BRAZIL to PARAGUAY and northern ARGENTINA (Misiones). more....

Taxonomy: Brown and Amadon (1968) and various other authors considered Herpeotheres to be closest to the Neotropical genus Micrastur, based on their shared accipiter-like morphology, with short, rounded wings and long tails and the lack of a true falconid tomial tooth. In addition, certain vocalizations of the Laughing Falcon resemble those of some Micrastur species, and both groups nest in cavities. However, the studies of Griffiths (1994) of syringeal morphology support the placement of this species in the Falconinae with Spiziapteryx, Microhierax, Polihierax, and Falco, and not in the polyborinine clade with caracara genera, or with Micrastur, which she regarded as forming a third basal clade.

Movements: Probably non-migratory.

Habitat and Habits: Typically seen perched on the top of a large dead tree in open country with scattered tall trees, including savannas, agricultural lands, and early second-growth lowlands in both humid and semi-arid habitats in lowlands. It rarely, if ever, enters unbroken forest. It is sluggish, slow moving, and flies fairly infrequently; it does not soar. Occurs singly, or occasionally in pairs. The Laughing Falcon calls frequently and loudly, often in duets, before and at dawn and dusk, and it is one of the most conspicuous raptor species in the Neotropical region. In some parts of Mexico, indigenous people believe that calls of this species predict impending rainfall (Sheffler and van Rossem 1944). In other areas, its calls are believed to precede clear weather, if given from a dead tree, or rain, if calling from a perch among green leaves (Wetmore 1943). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mostly on snakes, but also takes many lizards and occasionally preys on small mammals, birds, fish, and large insects (grasshoppers), especialy in modified habitats (Parker 1997). Sick (1993) recorded Laughing Falcons catching bats in Brazil. This species hunts for prey from perches in large trees at forest edges or along rivers, where it sits and waits, often for several hours, dropping down to the ground or to lower levels in trees for captures. It pounces on snakes with great force, hitting the ground with an audible thud, and it holds the snake just behind the head with its bill, usually biting off the head (Haverschmidt 1962, Skutch 1971). It flies to a perch to feed, carrying small snakes in the bill and large snakes in the feet parallel to its body (Skutch 1960, Sick 1993). Small snakes are swallowed whole, tail first, and large ones are picked to pieces. more....

Breeding: Usually nests in a natural cavity of a tree or in the interstices of clumps of epiphytes, but occasionally at the base of palm fronds, or in an old hawk or caracara nest. There are reports of nests in cliffs in Sonora, Mexico (Sheffler and van Rossem 1944) and the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais, Brazil (Sick 1993, Specht et al. 2008). Nest trees are often colonized by colonies of aggressive ants, which may provide protection of nestlings from mammalian predators and botfly ectoparasites (Wolfe 1954, Parker 1997). Clutch size is usually 1 egg, less commonly 2, with a white ground color, but almost completely suffused with reddish-brown and dark brown markings. Only the female incubates, and the male provides food to her during the incubation and early nestling periods. Later, both parents feed the chicks. The incubation period at a Guatemala nest was 45 days, about 40 days at a nest in Ecuador, and 40 and 42 days at two Argentine nests. The nestling period at the latter nests was 65 and 72 days (Di Giacomo 2005). Fledged young are dependent upon the parents for at least two months (Parker 1997). more....

Conservation: Fairly common or common in most parts of its extensive range. Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Di Giacomo, A.G. 2005. [Birds of the El Bagual Reserve]. Pp. 201-465 in
  A.G. Di Giacomo and S.F. Krapovickas (eds.), [Natural history and landscape
  of the El Bagual, Reserve: inventory of the vertebrate fauna and vascular
  plants of a protected area of the humid chaco]. Temas de Naturaleza y
  Conservación 4:1-592. Aves Argentinas/Asociación del Plata, Buenos Aires,
  Argentina. (In Spanish)
Enamorado G., A.M., and A. Arévalo O. 1992. Reproductive biology and diet
  of Laughing Falcons in primary and modified forest habitats. Pp. 193-200 in
  D.F. Whitacre and R.K. Thorstrom (eds.), Maya Project Progress report V,
  1992. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho.
Miller, E.T., H.F. Greeney, and U. Valdez. 2010. Breeding behavior of the
  Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) in southwestern Ecuador and
  northwestern Peru. Ornitologia Colombiana 10:43-50.
Parker, M. 1997. Ecology of nesting Laughing Falcons and Bat Falcons in
  Tikal National Park, Guatemala: foraging and niche breadth. M.Sc. thesis,
  Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.
Parker, M.N., A.M. Enamorado, and M. Lima. 2012. Laughing Falcon. Pp.
  265-280 in D.F. Whitacre (ed.), Neotropical birds of prey:
  biology and ecology of a forest raptor community. Cornell University Press,
  Ithaca, NY.
Skutch, A.F. 1960. The laughing reptile hunter of tropical America.
  Animal Kingdom 63:115-119.
Skutch, A.F. 1983. Herpetotheres cachinnans. Pp. 582-583 in D.H. Janzen
  (ed.), Costa Rican natural history. University of Chicago Press, Chicago,
Specht, G., E.P. Mesquita, and F.A. Santos. 2008. Breeding biology of
  Laughing Falcon Herpetotheres cachinnans (Linnaeus, 1758) (Falconidae) in
  southeastern Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia 16:155-159.
Wolfe, L.R. 1959. Nesting of the Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans
. Oologists' Record 33:6-9.

Sites of Interest:
Laughing Falcon photos.
Aves de Rapina do Brasil
Species account with emphasis on Brazil.

Granzinolli, Marco
Lemos, Môsar
Martinez-Fernandez, Alberto
Valdez, Ursula

Last modified: 5/8/2014

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Laughing Falcon Herpetotheres cachinnans. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 18 Oct. 2021

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