Africa, southern Asia, Pacific islands, Australia, Mexico, Central America, and South America


Wetlands, in floating vegetation, especially water lilies

The amazing lily-trotter

Jacanas are colorful birds with long legs and incredibly long toes and claws. The super-long toes spread the bird’s weight over a large area. This allows them to walk across floating vegetation, especially lily pads. Jacanas often appear to be walking on the water itself! They are also very good swimmers and divers, and they can swim through open water from one area of vegetation to another while searching for food or to avoid danger.

Handsome birds

Some jacana species, such as the northern jacana and the wattled jacana, have a chestnut- to cinnamon-colored body, with yellow to greenish yellow flight feathers, a dark brown to black neck and head, and a yellow bill. The African jacana also has a chestnut body, but its neck and head are white in front and black in back, with a golden yellow breast.

The Madagascar jacana has the same colors as the African jacana, but with the neck and head colors exactly reversed. There is even a pheasant-tailed jacana with (what else!) a long tail like a pheasant.

When spread out, a jacana’s toes and claws can cover an area up to 5 by 8 inches (12 by 20 centimeters).
Pheasant-tailed and northern jacana males pick up the empty shell of their newly hatched chick and fly several yards (meters) away before dropping it. This may keep predators away from the nest.
Female jacanas can be almost twice as big as the males.

Currently, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has an African jacana in its collection.

Jacana populations are stable at this time.

You can help us bring other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.