Herpetotheres cachinnanslaughing falcon

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Geographic Range

Laughing falcons are found in the neotropical region. They are most common in Central America and tropical South America. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

Habitat

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. (Brown and Amadon, 1968; Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

  • Range elevation
    sea level to 2500 m
    to 8202.10 ft

Physical Description

Herpetotheres cachinnans typically has a large creamy yellow or whitish head with black coloring around its large owl-sized eyes creating what looks like a mask. It has a thick yellow bill. Its wings are short and only reach to the base of its tail. The cream colored tail is striped with black. Adults weigh between 400 and 800 g, are 40 to 47 cm in length and have wingspans of 25 to 31 cm. There is little size difference between the sexes, however, the female has a slightly longer tail and is slightly heavier. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    400 to 800 g
    14.10 to 28.19 oz
  • Average length
    40-47 cm
    in
  • Range wingspan
    25 to 31 cm
    9.84 to 12.20 in

Reproduction

There is little information about mating systems for laughing falcons. Most falcons (family Falconidae) are monogamous and they usually nest as solitary pairs. Laughing falcons use vocal performances to attract mates. Often pairs will sing in duets for minutes at a time near dusk and dawn. (del Hoyo, et al., 1994)

The breeding season for laughing falcons varies with latitude. They usually lay one to two eggs per clutch. No information was available about the time to hatching for laughing falcons, however, for falcons in general hatching occurs after 45 to 50 days and the chicks fledge in about 57 days. (Brown and Amadon, 1968)

  • Breeding season
    Varies with latitude
  • Range eggs per season
    2 (high)
  • Average eggs per season
    1

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 extremely rare for a male laughing falcon to feed the young. No information was available regarding when parents stop feeding the young. However, in general, birds of prey decrease feeding slowly over time until the young are forced to fly from the nest and find food. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There was no information available regarding the lifespan of laughing falcons in the wild. The longest recorded lifespan in captivty is 14 years. (Brown and Amadon, 1968)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    14 (high) years

Behavior

Laughing falcons are generally solitary birds except during mating. They are crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and defend territories. Their most distinguishable behavior is the "laughing" call. They call in duets with the opposite sex for several minutes producing loud sounds that resemble laughter.

Home Range

We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.

Communication and Perception

Laughing falcons communicate with a "laughing" call. They call in duets with the opposite sex for several minutes producing loud sounds that resemble laughter.

Food 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. (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • fish

Predation

We do not have information on predation for this species at this time.

Ecosystem Roles

Because of their feeding habits, laughing falcons have an impact on the populations of the prey they eat.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is a rare practice called falconry in which a bird is trained to seek and kill prey for humans. Although there is no information stating that this particular species of falcon is used in falconry, it is a possibility that they were used in the past.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The negative impact that laughing falcons have on humans has been greatly exaggerated. Many farmers dislike birds of prey in general because they claim that the birds kill their livestock. For this reason they have been persecuted for years, sometimes to the point of extinction. (Brown and Amadon, 1968)

Conservation Status

Laughing falcons are listed as Appendix II by CITES.

Contributors

Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Anna Bobinsky (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Brown, L., D. Amadon. 1968. Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of the World. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Ferguson-Lees, J., D. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the World. London: Christopher Helm.

Skutch, F. 1999. Trogons, Laughing Falcons and other Neotropical Birds. College Station, Texas: Texas A & M University Press.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1994. Handbook of Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.