Birds – The Laughing Or Crying Falcon

(Herpetotheres cachinnans), as it is variously called in allusion to its peculiar notes, is not only the sole tenant of its genus, but is the only known member of the present subfamily Herpetotherince. In addition to the more technical characters, set forth on page 212, which serve to distinguish it from the other groups of the Falconidce, it may be described as a sturdily built, crested bird, about eighteen inches in length, with a moderately strong bill and very strong, curiously reticulated legs and feet, on which latter account it resembles quite strikingly the Serpent Eagles of the Old World. The plumage is brown above the feathers with paler edgings, the crown forming a cap being huffy white with narrow shaft-streaks to the feathers, while the feathers around the eye, hinder cheeks, ear-coverts, and a nuchal band are black, and the remaining parts, including a spot under the eye, cheeks, sides of the neck, and a neck collar and all lower parts, are buffy white; the wings are brown barred with blackish and have a conspicuous patch of creamy buff at the bases of the inner primaries, while the tail is alternately banded with dark brown and creamy buff; the bill is black and the cere and feet orange.

The Laughing Falcon is very widely and generally distributed from Bolivia and Paraguay northward throughout the whole country to southern Mexico, though not usually ascending very high in the mountains. It is an arboreal species and feeds upon reptiles, rodents, occasional birds, and grasshoppers. Its most marked peculiarity, which serves to call frequent attention to it, is its strange cry, which Leyland states maybe heard for miles. Mr. Leon J.Cole, who has recently written of it as observed in Yucatan, says : “The usual note is a rather drawn-out cry, much like the human voice in distress; it sounds like ‘Oh !’ at a rather high pitch, and with a slight falling inflection at the end. This is repeated at short intervals. Occasionally it gives a series of these cries, increasing in pitch and volume somewhat, and becoming slower as it proceeds.” Mr. Frank M. Chapman, whose observations were also made in Yucatan, adds : ” The notes of this Hawk are more human and weird in character than those of any bird I have ever heard, . . . resembling a call of a man in great pain, and ending in an agonized wail. It was grewsome beyond description.” The cries are given in the morning and again at dusk, and according to Dr. Richmond, who saw them on the Escondido River, Honduras, there is a curious guttural laugh which usually precedes the long call and which can be heard for only a short distance. From the fact that the bird calls most frequently about dusk, it is known as the “Rain-crow” by the Americans on the Escondido. Mr. E. A. Goldman, who has seen it in life throughout much of Central America, states that it is one of the most difficult and exasperating birds to procure, and after a patient stalk and the discharge of both barrels at it, it frequently is able to fly away with a wild laugh as though mocking the ill success of the shot ! The nest and eggs of the Laughing Falcon appear to be undescribed.