Return of Bird of the Week: Laughing Falcon


If the Great Black Hawk has a lame name, the Laughing Falcon’s is dead on. The call sounds a lot like demented laughter, and is a signature sound of the Neotropics. When a male and a female get to dueting it will sometimes make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Only the morning chorus of the Howler monkeys and the racket of a colony of Montezuma Oropendolas is spookier.

Laughing Falcon, Pantanal, Brazil

Laughing Falcon, Pantanal, Brazil

Another common name for the species is Snake Hawk, but that’s partly inaccurate: it’s a falcon, not a hawk. Both families are raptors, but they are not closely related. The “snake” part is more accurate; snakes are the main item in Laughing Falcon diets. The species hunts from perches or even from the ground. It doesn’t soar and isn’t an especially strong flier.

Laughing Falcon, Pantanal, Brazil

Laughing Falcon, Pantanal, Brazil

Laughing Falcons have a quite extended range: from both coasts of Mexico down through South America into northern Argentina. It’s primarily a forest bird, although it is seemingly comfortable on forest edges and, you will note, both of these photos were taken in South America’s largest swamp.

In the wild, it is unmistakeable: a cream-colored chest and head, with a black mask the Lone Ranger would envy. The bill is black but the cere – the area across the back of the bill – is bright yellow.

WC is wretched at birding by ear, but the Laughing Falcon’s call is unmistakeable and unforgettable. While the species slightly better researched than most Neotropic species – all that charisma, WC supposes – there are still a lot of blanks. Populations are believed to be stable, but that’s an educated guess.

A handsome bird, and always a treat to see or hear.

For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.