African jacana, Actophilornis africanus
Roberts’ No R240
by Pompie Burger
It’s neither their stunning eggs (possibly the most beautiful in the world), nor their ridiculously long toes, nor their exotic colours that are the African Jacana’s claim to fame, but rather their bizarre polyandrous mating procedure.
This, by the way, means that a single female mates with more than one male partner, at times with as many as six!
As a result the females are able to lay up to 10 successive clutches of eggs in one season.
Because of these rather relaxed sexual habits, and subsequent large number of eggs, the unfortunate males have to incubate and provide all the parental care without any assistance from the female.
This unacceptable behaviour is possible only because the female is twice the size of the male!
The jacana’s other claim to fame is that the male can carry up to four chicks under his wings when danger threatens.
Jacanas occur in pairs or small groups on lagoons, vleis and rivers, usually on backwaters that are fringed or covered with floating water lilies.
Their impossible long toes allow them to ‘walk on water’, so that they are often called lily-trotters. The females are obviously not all that agile on the lilies because of their weight (which serves them right!).
Jacanas are fairly common residents in the northern part of Namibia. They are not very strong fliers and generally restrict their sorties to short distances. When flying, their legs dangle behind them rather inelegantly. They feed mainly on insects, molluscs and seeds.
The only other jacana that occurs in Namibia, the lesser jacana, looks a lot like the immature African jacana, for which it can easily be mistaken. The main differences are the size – the African jacana is four times heavier than the lesser jacana – and the absence on the African jacana’s wings of the white trailing edge typical of the lesser jacana.
About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.
This article appeared in the April ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.