The length is about 10 inches. The head, neck, upper mantle, breast, central belly and under tail coverts are black. Elsewhere the coloration is a rich chestnut. Flight feathers are a pale greenish-yellow, very conspicuous in flight. Immatures are very different, being sooty brown above and more blackish on the crown, with a white stripe above the eye and a black stripe behind the eye. Otherwise they are grayish-brown above, with the sides of the head and under-parts whitish. The bill of the adult is yellow with a two-lobed yellow frontal shield. The bill of the immature is brownish with a pinkish or lilac frontal shield. The legs are long and grayish, with extremely long toes. Their tails are short.
Class: Bird (Aves)
Range: Panama to Bolivia, N. Argentina and Uruguay
Habitat: Floating vegetation, grassy areas
Wild Diet: Aquatic insects, mollusks, small fish, seeds of aquatic plants
Zoo Diet: Flamingo fare, insects
Jacanas are water birds characterized by their striking plumage and extremely long toes and claws, which enable them to walk with ease on floating vegetation and on the leaves of water lilies. (They are sometimes called “lily-trotters”.) They forage while stalking from leaf to leaf, occasionally jumping over a patch of open water with the help of a flick of the wings. Jacanas are sedentary birds, without any well-defined migrations. Like other birds dependent upon water, however, they are obliged to wander if their pond or marsh dries up. They walk on lily leaves and floating vegetation with a high stepping gait and jerking tail. Quick darts of the beak are made for insects, or picking up seeds. They poke under the water’s surface for crustacea or small snails, and often turn over the edge of a lily leaf to examine the underside. Bees are always dipped in water before being swallowed.
Polyandry (females mating with more than one male) is common among Jacanas, with a reversal of the role of sexes. Males establish small territories which are defended against other males by strident calls, chases with upraised wings, and even aerial attack. Males build the nest unaided by females. The nest is made of water weeds, a low raft usually on floating vegetation, but sometimes a pad in a tussock at the water’s edge. The female visits the nest to lay her eggs, then departs to consort with a neighboring male and lay a clutch for him. Generally the male incubates by himself. Newly-hatched young are carried under the wings of the adult. The young are helpless when hatched. By two days the chicks are fairly agile and can follow the adult. At three days they can run swiftly over lily pads, and then forage with the parent.
Gestation: Incubation: 22 to 24 days
Litter: Clutch: 3 to 6 eggs; usually 4
- The eggs are strong-shelled, pear-shaped, and very highly polished because of waterproof layer over the shell. They are olive brown, and heavily scrolled with irregular twisting black lines. They are sometimes covered with scraps of vegetation when the parents are absent.
- The Genus name, Jacana, is a Portuguese name for these birds. The species name is the same.