The Falcon That Laughs

Laughing Falcon (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Snakes seem to be a subtext on my blog lately.  Snakes caused the extirpation of the Guam rail, they're one of many foods eaten by secretary birds, and now I've learned there's a falcon in Central and South America that eats poisonous snakes and laughs.

The laughing falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) is named for his two most obvious traits.  Herpetotheres roughly means to "mow down snakes," cachinnans means to "laugh immoderately."

He captures snakes by watching from a perch, then pouncing to break their necks or behead them.  And he really does laugh.  Listen to this recording of a pair "singing" a duet.

Laughing falcons are about the size of peregrines and are often pictured with their head feathers raised, a pose that makes them resemble ospreys not falcons.  When they lower their head feathers, as in this photo on Wikimedia Commons, you can see their falcon family resemblance.

I first heard of this species when Charlie Hickey posted photos from his trip this month to Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  (Click here for Charlie's photos.)  I wonder if it was hard to find this bird in Costa Rica.  According to BirdLife International the laughing falcon has declined drastically in some locations but has such a wide range that it has not yet been listed as "vulnerable."


(photo by Charlie Hickey)

2 thoughts on “The Falcon That Laughs

  1. I was able to observe this stunning bird several times when I lived in Costa Rica, and it is easily my favorite of the raptors I’ve encountered in my travels. The laughing falcon’s call is very stirring, as is the sight of it perched at the edge of a tropical forest as it scans for snakes. In Spanish, it’s called “guaco” for its frequent vocalization, which can be heard from quite far away.

    The Neotropical ornithologist Alexander Skutch, whose life and memoirs I admire, was also a big fan of this bird. In A Naturalist in Costa Rica, he described the laughing falcon as “one of the most useful birds of tropical America, a protector not only of man but of every feathered creature whose nests are pillaged by snakes.”

  2. A falcon with a sense of humor!!! Finally!! I think I’m in love. Now if only it had a red beak and maybe bigger feet then it would be perfect. I think the head feathers qualify as the big hair … 🙂

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