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Jacanas: Jacanidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Most jacanas do not migrate, but remain in the same place year-round. During the breeding season, they are generally found in pairs or small groups. During the non-breeding season, jacanas congregate in flocks of as many as several hundred individuals.

Jacanas are good swimmers and divers and frequently move into water to escape potential predators. In several species, jacana chicks have breathing holes at the ends of their bills that allow them to hide with most of their bodies underwater. The jacanas' swimming skills are particularly important during the molting season, when jacanas lose their flight feathers and are temporarily flightless.


Jacana females are much larger than the males and are dominant over them. A single female breeds with up to four males during the breeding season, defending a large territory against other jacana females. Males are responsible for building the nest, sitting on the eggs, and caring for the chicks once they hatch. Females show their dominance to males by pecking at their necks and backs. To show his submission, the male crouches and lowers his head.

A single female jacana mates with multiples males, usually between one and four. This breeding system, which is not very common in birds, is known as polyandry (PAH-lee-an-dree). The female jacana is significantly larger than the males and is responsible for defending the territories of her mates. When another female approaches, males call to their mate. Disputes between female jacanas are usually resolved using displays in which the wings are spread, showing off the sharp wing spurs, followed by physical fights if necessary. Physical fights involve jabbing with either the bill or the wing spurs. If the intruder succeeds in chasing off the original female, she will generally kill any chicks from the previous matings so that the male jacanas will be free to tend new sets of eggs. The new female will also peck at the male's neck and back to show her dominance. Males crouch and lower their heads in response. Jacana territories are usually about the size of half a football field.

Jacanas generally breed during the rainy season. Males begin by building several potential nest sites. The female decides which to lay eggs in, or chooses a new site within the territory for a nest. Jacana nests typically consist of water lily leaves or other plant material on top of a mat of floating vegetation. The male and female flash their wings at each other before mating. Males are responsible for incubating, or sitting on and warming, the eggs. Generally, four eggs are laid at a time, and chicks hatch after twenty-two to twenty-eight days. Males are responsible for feeding the chicks and for protecting them. Males call to the chicks when there is danger and settle them under the wings. Males will also sometimes fake a broken wing in order to attract the attention of predators and allow the chicks to escape. Numerous predators prey on young jacanas, including the purple gallinule (a rail of the family Rallidae), snakes, otters, and turtles. Fewer than half of all jacana chicks make it out of the nest, and another half die before reaching adulthood.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsJacanas: Jacanidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Pheasant-tailed Jacana (hydrophasianus Chirurgus): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, JACANAS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS