African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus)
The Bird that walks on water
Alternate common name(s) as used in other areas:
Greater African Jacana, Lily-trotter
French: Jacana à poitrine dorée
Dutch: Afrikaanse jacana, Lelieloper
Jacanas are colorful birds with long legs and incredibly long toes and claws. The super-long toes spread the bird’s weight over a large area. This allows them to walk across floating vegetation, especially lily pads – hence the popular name of 'Lily-Trotter'. Jacanas often appear to be walking on the water itself!
The female African Jacana is slightly larger than the male although the color of the feathers are very much the same between males and females. Their dramatic markings include dark, chestnut brown feathers at their wings, and yellow-orange breast feathers. The front of the neck is white and the back of the neck and head is glossy black. The bill is bluish-gray, the eyes are dark brown, and the legs and toes are long in relation to the bird’s body size.
African Jacanas have a very interesting breeding behaviour.
Jacana eggs are true works of art. They are a deep tan color, with very dark markings that look like dribbled lines of paint, crisscrossing the entire egg in an abstract design that is different on each egg. The eggs are very glossy and shiny and look as though they have been highly polished. This “wet” appearance is nature’s camouflage, helping the eggs resemble the glossy surface of surrounding vegetation. The usual clutch consists of 4 eggs and the incubation period lasts on average, for 24 days, but it is quite variable, depending on weather conditions, and it can extend either way by two days.
Male jacanas do most of the nest building. After the female has laid a clutch of four eggs, the male takes over the parenting responsibilities. He incubates the eggs and protects them from danger. Jacana nests are built on mostly submerged plants. If the nest starts to sink, or the eggs are otherwise endangered, the male may pick them up and carry them under his wings to a new site. Meanwhile, the female has left the male to find more males to breed with. She does not participate in raising chicks. If, however, the eggs or chicks are lost, she will return to breed and produce a replacement clutch with the first male. Only one species, the Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis
, is known to be monogamous.
These birds eat insects, aquatic larvae, small crabs, snails, and seeds.
Some additional information can be found at these pages:
San Diego Zoo
, has some additional info as well as a photo of a chick
South African Tours’ Jacana
page has lost of additional and interesting information on these birds