Wild Fact #341 – Making a Little Magic – Northern Jacana

Northern Jacana Facts

Photo by Paul Kehrer (Wikimedia)

To wrap up another great week of animal facts, we are to explore the wetlands of Cuba, Mexico, Jamaica or Panama….I will let you choose which destination you want to visit. While we are wading around these beautiful wetlands we will be keeping an eye out for another wader, the Northern Jacana. If you are searching for this peculiar bird throughout Jamaica then you may hear the locals call it by another name. The Northern Jacana is sometimes referred to as the “Jesus Bird” since this bird appears to walk on water. Let’s take a minute to discuss how this wading, wetland bird is able to “walk on water”.

Walking on Water

So how are these shorebirds able to walk on water? Great question! If you look closely at their feet, you will notice that they have incredibly large feet with long claws at the end of each toe. These physical characteristics allow the Northern Jacana (or any Jacana for that matter) to successfully walk along floating vegetation throughout their shallow habitat. Although it looks like they are skimming across the top of the water, they are in fact just walking from plant to plant. I guess this little trick makes them the magicians of the bird world.

Northern Jacana Bird

Photo by Hans Hillewaert (Wikimedia)

Unique Mating Behaviour

The mating habits of the Northern Jacana are unique as the females are polyandrous, which simply means they mate with 1 to 4 males. Interestingly enough the female will produce a clutch of eggs for each male. At this point it becomes the responsibility of the male Jacana to incubate the prized eggs to ensure they hatch properly. They do this by sitting on their wings and putting one egg in between each of their wings and chest. You would think sitting on the eggs would be easier than holding them against your chest but I am not a bird, so how would I know?

Proper Housekeeping

Occasionally the females will incubate the eggs, if they absolutely have to but this only occurs if the male doesn’t have enough time to forage due to poor weather conditions. For the most part the male will stay with the eggs for the full 28 day incubation period. Once the eggs hatch the father will clean up the remaining egg shells before leading their new born chicks away from the nest. This usually occurs 24 hours after they birds hatch. If nothing else, you can’t say that the male Northern Jacana doesn’t pull its own weight around the house.

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