Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans)

Laughing Falcon

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Herpetotheres cachinnans | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Laughing Falcon | [FR] Macagua rieur | [DE] Lachfalke | [ES] Halcon Reidor | [NL] Lachvalk


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Herpetotheres are medium-sized, large-headed falcons; having rather short, rounded wings and a long strongly rounded tail. The bill is stout and not toothed. The legs are rather short and, with the toes, covered with small, rough, hexagonal scales – an adaptation to withstand the bites of poisonous snakes. The feathers of the crown are narrow, stiff and pointed, forming a bushy crest which is set off by a collar.
This genus also has some anatomical peculiarities and is placed in a sub-family of its own.
Herpetotheres resembles the Micrastur forest falcons sufficiently to suggest a distant relationship – cf. the Barred Forest Falcon and the Collared Forest Falcon.
There is just one species, which lives in the tropics of the New World.

Physical charateristics

In the adult, the head is buff, the shade varying by individual and with the extent of feather wear. A broad black mask extends around the back of the neck as a narrow, white bordered collar. The crown has conspicuous black shaft-streaks. The back of the wings and the tail are very dark brown; the upper-tail coverts white or buff; the tail itself narrowly barred black and white, with white tips. Most of the under parts are buff, becoming almost pale rufous on under-wing, including the base of the primaries. The ends of the primaries are barred with paler grey. Some dark spotting on under-wing coverts and thighs is not unusual. The eyes are dark brown. The bill is black; the cere and feet are straw-colour. In immature plumage the bird is similar to the adult, except that the back is dark brown; the feathers being broadly margined with pale brown. The light areas of the plumage are white, rather than buff. The colours of the soft parts are paler than in the adult.
Downy chicks are immaculate light brownish buff, becoming darker on the back. The blackish mask and collar of the adult are already apparent. The down is exceptionally soft and dense for a hawk; more like that of a duckling.

Listen to the sound of Laughing Falcon

[audio: Falcon.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 79 cm wingspan max.: 94 cm
size min.: 46 cm size max.: 53 cm
incubation min.: 45 days incubation max.: 50 days
fledging min.: 56 days fledging max.: 50 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 2  


Latin America : Mexico to North Argentina. The Laughing Falcon is found in tropical lowlands from Mexico south to eastern Bolivia, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil.


Laughing falcon habitat includes open parts of tall forests as well as deforested country with scattered trees. Laughing falcons can also be found around forest clearings and edges. They can be found from sea level to elevations of 2500 m. In humid areas it is common, in dry forested regions it is less common. It is more abundant in wooded regions than in unforested ones with scattered trees. It is most likely to be seen in semi-open situations, perched at varying heights above the ground, either on a bare branch or partly hidden in foliage. It may occur also in openings in woodland, but seldom in unbroken forest.


The (old) nest is built in a solitary tree or a tree part above the surrounding canopy, 3-33 meter high. The nest is made out of sticks, but hardly any building. Also in tree cavities or on cliffs.
There is little information about mating systems for laughing falcons. The breeding season for laughing falcons varies with latitude. They usually lay one to two eggs per clutch. No information is available about the time to hatching for laughing falcons. The parents share the incubation duties, although toward the time of hatching the female is reluctant to move from the nest. After the egg has hatched (45 to 50 days) the male assumes the role of hunter and the female tends to the young. It is rare for a male laughing falcon to feed the young.

Feeding habits

The primary diet of laughing falcons consists of small snakes. The birds hunt from an open perch and then pounce on the snake. It is possible hear a thud as the bird kills its prey. Laughing falcons grip the snake behind the head, sometimes breaking it off. They have been known to occasionally eat lizards, bats, rodents and fish. When hunting it sits bolt upright looking at the ground, sometimes turning its neck through 180 degrees like an owl. It pounces on a snake with great force, hitting the ground with an audible thud. It holds the snake just behind the head in its bill, often biting off the head. A small snake may be carried in the bill; a large one in the feet parallel to its body, like an Osprey carrying a fish. It proceeds to a branch to feed. Small snakes are swallowed tail first; large ones picked to pieces.

Video Laughing Falcon


copyright: V. Yabar


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Laughing falcons are found in the neotropical region. They are most common in Central America and tropical South America. In Suriname a common bid of the coastal plane in forest edges and disturbed country like plantations or farms with scattered trees. The voice has been described as a slowly descending series of notes that begins rather sweetly and ends sadly: ‘ha-ha-ha har-her-her’, or ‘haww harr herrer’, or a slightly mad, short ‘hahahahahaha’. This call is only rarely heard, mostly when the bird is disturbed. The more usual voice is a two-noted call which gives rise to its Costa Rican name, “guaco”. This call, can be heard most often after sunset, usually at deep twilight. It begins with a number of ‘gwa’s every half second or so, that gradually increase in intensity and become after a while a tirelessly repeated ‘gwa co’. The two syllables are equal in length and are equally emphatic, but the ‘gwa’ is higher pitched than the ‘co’. This call is loud and can be heard from some considerable distance – the ‘gwa-co’ may be repeated fifty times or more. Sometimes it begins with a differently sounding ‘oo oo-oo cow-cow-cow’ or with a ‘gwa’ going down the scale then levelling out. The body of the call sometimes consists entirely of ‘gwa’s instead of ‘gwa-co’s. The call is smooth and full, a far cry from the scream, whistle, or any other sound usually associated with a hawk. Very often two birds call together, in different rhythms and with slight differences in pitch. The gradually changing, off beat doubling of the notes creates an odd sensation of mounting excitement.
Laughing Falcon status Least Concern


Probably sedentary, but in Brazil not present throughout the year.

Distribution map

Laughing Falcon distribution range map

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