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)