African Jacana

The males raise the young
African Jacana Scientific Classification
Scientific name
Actophilornis Africanus
African Jacana Physical Characteristics
Brown, Yellow, Blue, Black, White
one million
5 to 10 years
4 to 12 ounces
African Jacana Distribition

The African jacana is one of our planet’s most unique and interesting birds. From their gigantic toes, fascinating parenting techniques, and quirky calls, these aquatic birds are a one-of-a-kind species to study. Learn all about this African bird, including where you can find it, how it cares for its young, and how it finds food.

Their nests are simple and consist of floating rafts made from lily pads or other aquatic vegetation. They are typically partially submerged in the deep end of a lake, usually under shady trees or other plants.

Amazing African Jacana Facts

  • They have enormous feet with elongated toes.
  • The African jacana produces calls that sound like shrieks, groans, and barks.
  • The male raises the young and carries them under his wings.
  • They have enormous feet that allow them to walk on floating vegetation.
  • They are excellent swimmers and divers but not very strong fliers.
  • Chicks learn to dive underwater to protect themselves from predators.

Where to Find the African Jacana

The African jacana inhabits over 40 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritania to Sudan down to the very tip of South Africa. Some of the countries include, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania, and Togo. These jacanas are widespread across the continent’s freshwater wetlands, but you won’t find them around forests, jungles, deserts, or plains. Look for them in shallow lakes with plenty of floating vegetation. While they don’t migrate, they are pretty nomadic. They move to new habitats during times of flooding or drought, searching for spots with lily pads where males like to construct their nests. The African jacana may be one of the easiest birds to identify due to its unusual feet and propensity for walking on water.

Scientific Name

The scientific name for African jacunas is Actophilornis Africanus. Their order, Charadriiformes, includes birds that live near water, such as auks, gulls, and waders. The family Jacanidae, also known as “Jesus birds” or “lily trotters,” encompasses tropical waders with elongated toes. Its Genus, Actophilornis, includes the African jacana and the endangered Madagascar jacana.

Size, Appearance, and Behavior

Adult African jacanas are medium – sized waterbirds with long necks, long legs, and short tails. They can measure 23 to 31 cm (9.1 to 12.2 in) long. They weigh around four to 12 ounces and have 20-inch wingspans

These birds are highly vocal, producing loud shrieks, moans, and barks. Some of their vocalizations include flight calls and sharp alarm signals. Unlike other bird species, the African jacana males build the nests, incubate the eggs, and raise the young. The fathers are super protective and will often pick his babies up and hide them under his wings. Apart from walking on water, jacanas are also excellent swimmers and divers. Males teach their chicks to dive underwater and escape predators from a young age. While they can fly, they are weak and can only fly for short distances. Also, their feathers molt simultaneously, rendering them flightless until they grow back.

An African Jacana walking on lily pads
African jacanas have enormous feet with elongated toes that allow them walk on floating vegetation.Kelly Ermis/


African jacanas are carnivores with a wide-ranging diet.

What Does the African Jacana Eat?

These unusual birds eat freshwater insects, larvae, spiders, crustaceans, and mollusks. They forage for their food by walking across lily pads and other floating vegetation. And while they can swim and fly, they prefer to walk across the water, occasionally reaching out to grab flying insects. You can also view them picking bugs off the backs of buffalo and hippopotamus.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the African jacana as “least concern” due to its extensive range and stable population. However, this bird faces threats, specially to its eggs. While not unusualplace and considerable in its scope, this jacana bird faces habitat degradation, flooding, wetland draining, and overgrazing from different wildlife. An invasive species known as nutria (huge semi-aquatic rodents) destroys water lilies, an vital a part of the jacana’s habitat. Fortunately, they are able to use different floating flora for their nests.

What Eats the African Jacana?

The African jacana’s chicks and eggs are particularly susceptible to predators, including birds of prey, otters, crocodiles, large fish, and turtles. Other predators include the Nile monitor, hippopotamus, and snakes, which feed on eggs and babies in the water.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

African jacanas can breed year-round, besides for areas that enjoy a dry season, then seasonal breeding occurs. These birds have an uncommon polyandrous mating season, in which the female flees the nest as quickly as she’s laid the eggs. She then actions directly to her subsequent mate, leaving the adult males alone to raise the young. The adult males construct semi-submerged floating nests, and the females lay 4 eggs. After she goes, he’ll incubate the eggs for about 26 days. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to sit on them the entire time. The heat allows for herbal incubation, and he may also move the nest to a shaded place to save you overheating.

After hatching, chicks can feed themselves, and their dads are there for steerage and protection. The male’s interactions together along with his younger are unique. He frequently scoops them up beneathneath his wings, and also you see numerous lengthy pairs of legs dangling, giving him the appearance of a ordinary creature with many appendages. The young fledge the nest around 35 days after hatching, however they live nearby their parent for another 35 days.


The African Jacana population is mainly unstudied. African jacanas are concentrated in the Central and Southern regions of Africa. They are estimated to have around one million mature individuals. Their numbers are considered stable without evidence of any declines. Their numbers also do not appear to experience extreme fluctuations or fragmentation.


  1. IUCN Red List, Available here:
  2. Sabinet African Journals, Available here:
  3. Research Space, Available here:
  4. African Journals Online, Available here:

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