The Jacana Bird: A Complete Guide to Their Habitat and Habits

The Jacana Bird A Complete Guide to Their Habitat and Habits

The Jacana bird – also recognized as the lily trotter – is native to tropical regions around the world. These awe-inspiring birds are known for their unparalleled ability to seemingly walk on water thanks to their remarkably elongated toes and claws. In this piece of construct, we are going to unpack the various aspects of the Jacana bird, including its physical characteristics, preferred habitats and intriguing behaviors.

KingdomPhylumClassOrderGenusFamilyScientific Name
AnimaliaChordataAvesCharadriiformesJacana BrissonJacanidaeJacanidae
Taxonomic Classification of Jacana Bird (Jacanidae)

Scientific Name

The Jacana’s scientific name is Jacanidae – first introduced in 1854 by French naturalists Jean-Charles Chenu and Marc ds Murs. The very name is sprung from the Tpi word “ñaha’nã,” which referred to the bird in the indigenous language of Brazil.

Enticingly, the pronunciation of “jacana” is actually debated. While Linnaeus used the scientific Latin spelling “Jacana,” it’s thought to be closely related to the Portuguese word “jaçanã,” which is pronounced roughly like “zha-sa-NA.”

Origin and Evolution

Evolutionary History

Speaking the jacana’s origin, fossil records propose the specie originated in the Oligocene epoch – around 34 million years back. The earliest fossils were located in Egypt and Florida. Built upon these fossils, scientists are of the view that jacanas possibly evolved from shorebirds related to sandpipers and plovers.

Genetic Composition and Diversity

The jacana family comprises six living genera and eight recognized species. Recent genetic studies are suggestive of the notion that the African jacana (Actophilornis africana) is the most basal member of the family. The remaining species are split into two main lineages based on their genetic similarity and geographic distribution.

Environmental Adaptations

In conjunction with the jacana’s adaptations, their elongated toes and claws let them distribute their weight evenly across floating vegetation like lily pads. Their long legs assist them to wade through shallow water and grasping prey. In addition, the sharp claws of them are used for climbing on aquatic plants and capturing small invertebrates. Their water-resistant plumage facilitates them to stay dry while foraging and nesting on water surfaces.

Distribution and Population

Geographic Range

Jacanas are found in tropical regions around globe, including Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Caribbean islands and Australia.

Population Dynamics

In terms of the Northern jacana population, as per BirdLife International, 2024, their estimated global population is 500,000 – 4,999,999 mature individuals. The global population size of Wattled Jacan is not readily available.


Continents Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America
Countries Many tropical countries within the listed continents
Bio-geographical RealmsAfrotropic, Palearctic, Indomalayan, Australasian, Neotropical
Biome Wetlands, including swamps, marshes, shallow lakes, and lagoons
Climate ZonesTropical, Subtropical

Jacana Species

Lesser Jacana (Microparra capensis)

The species is found in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It’s known for its small size and distinctive black and white plumage.

African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus)

These birds are widespread across sub-Saharan Africa. What makes them prominent is their black and white coloration and red facial wattles.

Madagascar Jacana (Actophilornis albinucha)

The Madagascar jacana inhabits in Madagascar and are identical to the African jacana but with a white nape.

Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

These species are the most widespread jacana – found from Mexico to southern South America and the Caribbean islands. They feature reddish-brown plumage with yellow wing feathers.

Comb-crested Jacana (Irediparra gallinacea)

These birds are found in Australia, New Guinea and Southeast Asia. The feature that makes them conspicuous are their unique comb-like crest and chestnut-colored body.

Bronze-winged Jacana (Metopidius indicus)

These jacanas reside in Southeast Asia from India to Vietnam. They’re characterized by their bronze-colored wings and chestnut-red plumage.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus)

They’re widespread in Southeast Asia from India to the Philippines. Their notable characteristic is their long, black tail feathers displayed during breeding season.

Wattled Jacana (Jacana jacana)

The species are found in tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America. They’re known for their wattles and chestnut-colored body with black and white markings.


Jacana Habitat - Jacana Bird

Habitat Preferences

With respect to the jacana’s habitat, they’re exclusively found in tropical and subtropical wetlands. They entails shallow water depths, normally less than 1 meter, to effectively navigate and forage. For nesting, foraging and resting they use platforms, like lily pads, water hyacinths and other floating plants. On top of that, reeds, bulrushes and other emergent plants provide cover for nesting and protection.

Habitat Utilization Patterns

Some jacana species, such as the northern jacana, showcase seasonal migrations betwixt breeding and non-breeding grounds based on water accessibility and food resources. The jacana bird is typically diurnal, that is, they’re most active during the day, foraging and breeding under the sunlight. Jacanas, also known as lily trotters, are fascinating wading birds renowned for their remarkable ability to walk on water lilies San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants.

5 Jacana Bird Facts

  • Concerning their size, Jacana females are larger and more dominant than males.
  • Jacanas are also known as “lily trotters” or “Jesus birds” thanks to their ability to seemingly walk on water.
  • When threatened, they can stay underwater for stretched periods, breathing only through their beaks that poke out of the water’s surface.
  • The wattled jacana enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the giant rodent, picking ticks and other parasites directly off the capybara’s body.
  • The pheasant-tailed jacana is the only jacana with a long, flowing tail that only grows during the breeding season.



Jacanas’ appearance, combining unparalleled physical features and unique color combinations, is what they’re known for. Let’s unfold the details.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Shape: The jacana bird is generally medium-sized ranging from 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) in length. They sport a slender build and long legs.

Color: Across species jacana colors vary, but generally includes a blend of brown, black, white and yellow. There’re some species that boast red facial wattles or elongated tail feathers.

Markings: On their heads, wings and bodies, jacanas have distinctive markings like streaks, spots or patterns.

Distinctive Features: The most noticeable feature of the jacana bird is its elongate toes and claws.

Sexual Dimorphism

In most jacana species, females are larger and more vibrantly colored than males. Yes, you got it! It’s contrary to the typical pattern observed in many bird species. The females’ larger size let them dominate social interactions and compete for mates.


Color(s) Commonly includes chestnut, black, white, yellow, and green
Claws Exceptionally long and slender
MouthSmall and pointed
JawWeak and lacking teeth
NoseNostrils located at the base of the bill
FeetLong and slender with three long toes and one short toe
Skeleton Lightweight and pneumatic (filled with air) for efficient flight

Reproduction and Life Cycles

 Reproduction - Jacana Bird

Mating System

The jacana’s mating system falls under polyandry strategy. In the course of breeding season, females actively compete for territories and attract multiple males through elaborate displays and vocalizations.

To attract a female jacana, a male defends small territories within her domain and display courtship behaviors. Females opt for mates build upon a plenty of factors, including territory quality and male displays.

Reproductive Biology

Albeit the jacana’s breeding season varies depending on the species and location, it normally coincides with the wet season. Following mating, the female lays a clutch of eggs in a nest built by one of the males within his territory. Surprisingly, males solely take on the responsibility of incubation, care for the chicks and defending the nest from predators.

Life Cycle Stages

Life Cycle Stages
  • Eggs: Jacana eggs are typically brown or olive-colored having darker markings and take around 25 to 30 days to hatch.
  • Chicks: Jacana chicks are precocial, that is, they’re able to leave the nest and feed themselves shortly after hatching.
  • Juveniles: Young jacanas resemble adults but have duller plumage and lack some distinctive features like wattles or tail feathers.
  • Sexual Maturity: These birds reach sexual maturity at around 1 to 2 years old. The jacana’s lifespan in the wild is approximated to be around 5 to 10 years.

Mating Habits

Mating Behavior Polyandrous
Reproduction Season Varies depending on location, but typically coincides with the wet season
Litter Size Usually 2-4 eggs per clutch, although some species may lay up to 6 eggs
Independent Age Chicks are able to fledge (fly) after about 6-8 weeks old

Diet and Lifestyle


Feeding Ecology

When it comes to the jacana diet, these birds are chiefly insectivores, implying their diet consist primarily on insects found on or near water bodies. They also consume other invertebrates like worms, spiders and crustaceans.

Foraging Strategies

While seeking out prey, their elongated toes and claws help them walk on lily pads and other floating vegetation. They deploy their long bills to probe the water and soft mud for covert insects. Over and above the breeding season, the jacana’s behavior (social) is solitary or territorial.

Threats and Conservation

Conservation Status

The jacana conservation status as per IUCN varies based on the specific bird. The Northern jacana and wattled jacana are categorized as Least Concern. On the flip side, species, like Madagascar jacana, falls into Near Threatened category.

Primary Threats

Though some jacana species are relatively stable, several threats endanger their populations include: habitat loss and degradation, climate change, predation and unsustainable hunting.

Cultural Significance and Symbolism

Among the Efik people of Nigeria, the wattled jacana is recognized as “enyong” and is linked with rain and fertility. In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, its’ long toes and claws are believed to possess healing properties.

In Thailand, the bronze-winged jacana is called “nok nang phraeng” (boat bird) thanks to its resemblance to a small boat. In some indigenous communities of Southeast Asia, the jacana’s ability to navigate on water is considered an icon of balance and harmony.

The Takeaways

Forge a path through an intriguing journey as we unfold fascinating facts about jacanas – truly captivating animals that start with J. Join us in shedding light on their remarkable rundown!

Common NameJacana
Other Name(s)Lily Trotter, Water Pheasant, Lotus Bird
Number of Species 8
Lifespan Up to 10 years in captivity, lifespan in the wild is unknown
Weight 60-180 grams (2.1-6.3 oz)
Length 15-30 cm (6-12 inches)
Wingspan40-65 cm (16-26 inches)
Top Speed 35 km/h (22 mph)
PredatorsSnakes, birds of prey, mammals (including foxes, raccoons, and cats)
PreyInsects, small fish, seeds, aquatic invertebrates
Most Distinctive FeatureLong toes and claws


Jacanas, being carnivorous, employ their bills adeptly to upturn lily pads or other aquatic vegetation. Jacana’s diet includes insects, snails, worms, small crabs, fish, mollusks, and seeds.

A jacana bird is a wading bird belonging to the family Jacanidae. They are known for their long toes and claws that allow them to walk on floating vegetation in shallow lakes and wetlands. They are found in tropical regions around the world.

It exhibits an overall length ranging from 23 to 31 cm (9.1 to 12.2 in).

Northern jacanas typically measure an average length of 241 mm, with a wingspan averaging 508 mm. Sexual dimorphism is evident, with males being notably smaller than females. A study conducted in Costa Rica revealed that females have an average weight of 145.4g, while males average 86.9g.

Jacanas are indigenous to Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

The jacana predators include otters, turtles, crocodiles, snakes, birds of prey, and large fish.

Telly Parker

Telly Parker is an experienced content writer and dedicated researcher with seven years of experience in crafting engaging and informative content. With a passion for wildlife conservation and ecology, Telly specializes in writing captivating pieces that educate and inspire readers about the wonders of the natural world. Through meticulous research and a creative approach to storytelling, Telly brings complex topics to life, shedding light on the importance of biodiversity and the preservation of our planet's ecosystems.

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