Jacanidae – Jacanas

Wattled Jacana Jacana jacana ©James Lowen Website

The Jacanidae or jacanas (sometimes referred to as Jesus birds or lily trotters) are a family of tropical waders. They are found worldwide within the tropical zone.

Eight species of jacana are known from six genera. They are identifiable by their huge feet and claws which enable them to walk on floating vegetation in the shallow lakes that are their preferred habitat. They have sharp bills and rounded wings, and many species also have wattles on their foreheads.

There is some sexual dimorphism, female jacanas are larger than the males. The latter, as in some other wader families like the phalaropes, take responsibility for incubation, and some species (notably the Northern Jacana) are polyandrous. However, adults of both sexes look identical, as with most shorebirds. They construct relatively flimsy nests on floating vegetation, and lay eggs with dark irregular lines on their shells, providing camouflage amongst water weeds.

Their diet consists of insects and other invertebrates picked from the floating vegetation or the water’s surface. Most species are sedentary, but the Pheasant-tailed Jacana migrates from the north of its range into peninsular India and southeast Asia.

According to most sources there are just 8 species in this family, which are:

Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis

African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Madagascar Jacana Actophilornis albinucha

Comb-crested Jacana Irediparra gallinacea

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus

Bronze-winged Jacana Metopidius indicus

Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa
Wattled Jacana Jacana jacana

Useful Reading
  • Shorebirds

    An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World by Pter Hayman, John Marchant and Tony Prater - Helm 1986 ISBN: 0713635096 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Shorebirds of North America - The Photographic guide

    by Dennis Paulson Christopher Helm 2005. Price ?24.99p ISBN: 071367377X Buy this book from NHBS.com

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