African Jacana

African Jacanas are graceful birds, good divers and strong flyers

South Africa BirdlifeThe African Jacana {Actophilornis africana}

These graceful birds are good divers and strong flyers. Squawking during flight, the African Jacana has a keen sense of sight and hearing and relies little on its sense of smell.

The female bird is larger than the male although the colouring of the feathers are much the same between the sexes. Their impressive markings include chestnut brown feathers at their wings, and yellow-orange breast feathers.

The front of the neck is white and the back of the neck and head are glossy black in colour. The African Jacana's characteristic bill is bluish-gray and the eyes are dark brown. The legs and toes are rather long in relation to the rest of the birdís body size. These lovely birds are known as 'lily walkers' because their slender legs and toes give them the gracefulness to walk on the lily pads that blanket their wetlands. Due to their smaller size, the males are a lot more graceful than the females of the species.

Quick Facts


Range mass: 1.4 to 2.6 kg.
Range length: 23 to 31 cm.


African Jacana prefer lagoons, swamps and marshes, where there are lily pads and other floating vegetation. It spends most of its life on large floating leaves. Non-migratory, they are however highly nomadic, often moving in search of new temporary wetlands.


They are found throughout Zimbabwe, Mozambique, northern Namibia, northern Botswana. In South Africa, African Jacana are abundant in the eastern parts and less common in the rest of the country.


Their diet consists primarily of insects (beetles, flies etc.) but also consume small crabs, snails, and small fish.


African Jacanas are sociable birds gathering together in groups near their preferred swamp-like habitats. Confrontational behaviour among same-sexed birds begins at the end of winter and escalates before the mating season which occurs from November to March. African Jacanas are not monogamous in their mating patterns, the female choosing more than one mate each season.

A mating pair can have up to 30 clutches of eggs each season, resulting from either the same partner or various partners. The female African Jacana is more dominant than the male and much larger. At times she will be highly selective about whom she chooses to mate with and she rarely chooses the same partner for every clutch of eggs that she lays.


These colourful waterbirds send out loud, raucous calls when danger lurks or intruders fly over their territory. It is a noisy bird letting out a range of calls and sounds.


The nest is usually a simple, partly submerged pad of aquatic vegetation, although on deeper water, nests are generally placed on small floating 'rafts' of vegetation. The female African Jacana lays several clutches of eggs between December and April. The eggs are brown in colour, glossy, with irregular black markings.
The male African Jacana is the primary caretaker of the offspring, incubating the eggs and carrying the baby chicks under his wings to keep them warm and dry until the chicks are approximately 18 days old.


Incubation lasts about 23 to 27 days and the young fledge after 50 days

Life Expectancy

Information required.


Predators of the African Jacanaís eggs and chicks are the nile monitor, cape clawless otter and hippopotamus. Their eggs and young chicks are often preyed upon so the survival of the species is dependent on the mother's ability to lay several clutches of eggs in one season.


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