Walks On Water

African jacana chick (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

12 August 2011

What a cute baby bird … but look at those feet!   Each toe is as long as his tiny body.

This is an African jacana chick and his lifestyle is as odd as his feet.

He hatched in a floating nest built by his father on a shallow tropical lake.  Not only did his dad build the nest but he incubated the eggs and raised the chicks.  

His mother had nothing to do with the family.  After she laid the eggs she went off to spend time with the other males in her harem as is typical in the jacanas’ female-dominated society.

Dad’s nest building skills were acceptable but a floating nest does get wet.  Fortunately the eggs are waterproof and the chicks precocial — they can walk and find food as soon as they hatch.

And that leads back to this baby’s feet.

Since jacanas live on lakes they have to be able to walk across very flimsy floating vegetation.  Their big feet can do this because they act like snowshoes, distributing the birds’ weight across a wide surface.   This earned African jacanas the nickname “lily trotter.”

He walks on water.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original, taken at a zoo in Japan)

7 thoughts on “Walks On Water

  1. Are they in the same family as American Coots? People here are not mindful of coots, purple gallinules and I forget the other one, but I have seen them in Florida. The American version of this bird.

  2. Coots are rails (Rallidae); Jacanas are “Jacanidae.” But they live similar lifestyles so they have similar feet.

  3. This post reminded me of the basilisk lizard, which I saw in Costa Rica a few years ago. (I actually caught a baby one and made it run across a swimming pool.) They’re also known as Jesus Christ lizards. Could you have been thinking of a Common Moorhen Barb?

  4. That’s it! Yes. A moorhen.

    We have coots here on rare occasions. There used to be some all the time at South Side (Pittsburgh) 18th street in the Mon river there, until the city started concrete work near the boat ramp. The coots left and never came back. They didn’t like being disturbed.

    The purple gallinule was on a city park peninsula under the Port Orange Bridge just below Daytona Beach in Florida. This small island was surrounded by the freshwater river that runs between Daytona beach and Daytona on the mainland. It had a reed filled area with a pond and peering through the reeds, there was a purple Gallinule, which appeared to be nesting. What a thrill. That was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting for me.

  5. I remember being shocked when I saw those birds in my book at home for the first time. They look like something that should live in Africa to me!

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