What are Jacanas

Jacanas or lotus birds are distributed widely across the southern hemisphere.  They are classified as part of the Charadriiformes, with plovers and lapwings, by some taxonomists, while others consider them to be different enough to deserve their own order.  There are eight species in the family Jacanidae and they are found in South America, Africa, Australia, India, south-east Asia and Madagascar. 

Jacanas are water birds that have large, unwebbed feet with long toes, suitable for walking on lotus flowers and other aquatic vegetation.  Their toes are in fact the longest toes of any bird and combined with sharp claws make them ideal for their lifestyle. They have short wings and are not good flyers but make up for this by their ability to run on leaves and swampy ground.  They are insect eaters primarily but will also eat crustaceans, molluscs and some plant seeds

Two species of Jacana live in Australia:  the pheasant-tailed Jacana of the northern territory and the more widely distributed comb-crested Jacana.  This bird has a red bill and a pink comb which make it quite distinctive and easy to spot as it moves around on floating vegetation, although it is not a large bird.

The sexes are similar in colour but the  females are generally larger than the males.  After mating, they build mounds on floating vegetation for their nests and the males take responsibility for incubating the eggs.  Usually  there are four eggs and after hatching, the male continues to look after them.  The young are dressed in camouflaged feathers and are soon able to run and forage on their own.  When threatened though, the male will often carry his offspring under his wing in some of the Jacana species, including the comb-crested Jacana.  In some species, the young can dive under the water to avoid predators and then use their yellow beaks as snorkels to allow them to stay out of danger longer.

Three species of Jacanas have peculiar spurs on their wings which are used in fights.  These are present on the northern, wattled and pheasant-tailed Jacanas.  The other five species have blades on their wings which are also used for fighting.  The fights are between individuals of the same species and are about territory and sexual rights.

All in all, Jacanas are quite strange little birds.  They are strange because of their long legs and toes and the way they can run on floating leaves.  They are strange because of their spurs and blades which they use for fighting.  They are different too because the males do most of the work to raise the young.  They must be doing something right though, because they are quite successful in their chosen habitats.

for more information: http://www.avianweb.com/jacanas.html  http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/Comb-crested-Jacana/Irediparra/gallinacea.html  http://science.jrank.org/pages/3715/Jacanas.html.  http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/07/spurs_blades_jacanas_lapwings.php