How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund spent nine years from 1988 to 1996 studying Neotropical birds of prey in the Peten region of Guatemala in an ambitious undertaking called the Maya Project. This information helped contribute to the scientific world's knowledge of these species, including the Black-and-white Hawk-eagle. This is important because the more we know about a species, the better we are able to help conserve it. The Peregrine Fund published the results of the Maya Project in a book called "Neotropical Birds of Prey, Biology and Ecology of a Forest Raptor Community."
Our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve raptors on a global scale. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation. We also support the Neotropical Raptor Network - a group that helps conserve birds of prey by improving communication and collaboration among raptor enthusiasts throughout the region!
Where They Live
The Laughing Falcon is a Neotropical raptor, found from northern Mexico, through much of Central America, and south into South America, to northern Argentina. Unlike the Harpy Eagle, which makes its home in the dense lowland forests, the Laughing Falcon prefers more open areas with some tall trees to perch on.
It can be seen perched, soaring, hunting, and nesting in forest edges, gallery forests or along rivers, savannas, second-growth forests, and even near agricultural fields in the following countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.
What They Do
Our imaginations might run wild - and it could be quite fun - imagining why someone chose to name a bird a "laughing" falcon. Does it actually laugh? Is it comical in some way? If you thought this bird was given this name because it sounds like it is laughing, you would be right! If you are ever walking through Laughing Falcon habitat, and you hear something that sounds like a loud wah ha ha, it is probably a Laughing Falcon. These falcons tend to be most vocal right before and at dawn and dusk!
Once you hear it calling, if it is nearby, you may be able to see it perched in a high, visible branch. And it is worth taking a long, close look a this raptor! This is one of the most distinctive, and arguably one of the most beautiful, of the Neotropical raptors. This falcon is a perfect blend of blacks, browns, and off-white markings. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic is the dark mask across its eyes and on the side of its face. This mask contrasts beautifully with its creamy white head and breast. It is a black and white banded tail, a yellow cere, and dark legs and eyes.
Why They Need our Help
The Laughing Falcon is categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. This means that conservationists aren't worried about the future of this widespread falcon. While it does appear to do well in some altered habitats, that doesn't mean that forest logging won't have an impact on them in the long-term. Also, Laughing Falcon eggs and nestlings do sometimes fall prey to other animals including monkeys, snakes, and tayras.
What They Eat
Probably the most common prey taken by Laughing Falcons are snakes, both big and small, venomous and non-venomous, arboreal and terrestrial. However, its choice of food doesn't stop there. It will prey on lizards, small mammals, birds, fish, and large insects, such as grasshoppers. In Brazil, researchers also recorded this falcon hunting bats.
When on the hunt, a Laughing Falcon will actually spend a lot of time waiting and watching - sometimes hours. While it might not look very exciting to us, don't be fooled. This keen-eyed raptor is always on alert for prey slithering, walking, or hopping by. Once this falcon spots something that will make a good meal, it drops down to the ground or to lower levels in trees to snatch itself a meal. Researchers have reported that this falcon pounces on snakes with great force, "hitting the ground with an audible thud". When it catches a snake, it holds it just behind the head with its beak. Then it readily bites off the snake's head.
Once it has its prey "in hand," it will fly to a perch where it will feed. If it has caught a small snake, it might carry it to its perch with its beak. If it has caught a larger snake, it will carry the snake in its feet parallel to its body. When the falcon has finally settled in to eat, it will swallow small snakes whole, tail first. This falcon uses its sharp beak to rip larger snakes into small pieces, which it then swallows.
Nests, Eggs, and Young
The Laughing Falcon, like many falcons, doesn't build its own nest. It prefers to lays its eggs in natural tree cavities, clumps of epiphytes, at the base of palm fronds, or even in old nests built and abandoned by other birds, such as hawks or caracaras. On some rare occasions, it is known to actually nest on cliffs!
The female usually lays one egg, though sometimes she may lay two. The eggs are an off -white color, blended with reddish or dark brown markings. Once the eggs are laid, the female will spend the next 45 days sitting on and caring for her eggs. During this time she rarely leaves the nest and relies on the male to bring her food. After the nestling hatches, it will need to eat a lot in order to grow healthy and strong. By the time it is around a little over 2 months old, it will be ready to fly from the nest for the first time. Even though it is flying, this young bird will still need to stay in its parents' territory for the following 2 months while it learns to hunt and avoid dangers.
Researchers have noticed a very interesting relationship between the trees the falcons nest in and ants! Sometimes, the falcons will nest in the same tree in which aggressive ants have set up their homes. These ants don't generally bother the falcons, but they do attack other animals that come close. This close relationship help protect falcon nestlings from mammalian predators and perhaps even botfly ectoparasites.
Laughing Falcon and the World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about all birds of prey. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos, and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes await you. The visitor center has many live raptors on display, including several falcon species including a Peregrine Falcon, a Gyrfalcon, an American Kestrel, and an Aplomado Falcon. This is a great chance to see birds of prey up close and learn about the wonderful and interesting adaptations they have in order to survive in their respective habitats. There is also a touch table with feathers and other natural objects available for exploration.
Barkley, B. (2020). Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.laufal1.01
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Laughing Falcon Herpetotheres cachinnans. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 24 Aug. 2021
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.
Sheffler, W.J. and van Rossem, A.J., 1944. Nesting of the Laughing Falcon. The Auk, pp.140-142.
Skutch, A.F. 1960. The laughing reptile hunter of tropical America. Animal Kingdom 63:115-119.