The Bird That Walks On Water
NORTHERN JACANA - Aka the Georgie Bull or Jesus Christ bird
There are eight species of this lively little lily-pad trotter, only one of which resides in the marshes, ponds and other waters of Belize. Also known as the Jesus Christ bird (for walking on water), Jacana's live wherever there is floating aquatic plants thrive. It hops daintily from lily pad to lily pad with its long and spindly toes in search of water bugs, tiny fish, or small mollusks.
Jacanas are colorful water 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 good swimmers and divers, and can journey through open water from one area of vegetation to another.
The Northern Jacan is easily identified by its long legs and long toes. Their bodies are about the same size as a robin. Its long slender toes stretch out across the floating water vegetation, it easily runs across the water in search of a tasty meal. The Northern Jacana is found all along the coastline of Mexico, into western Panama, in Hispaniola, Jamaica, Belize, Cuba & Texas (USA).
Northern Jacanas are known for being quite aggressive and territorial. They frequently fight with each other using their weapons – spurs located on the bend of the wing. Its quite easy to understand why the unique Northern Jacana’s are popular amongst bird watchers.
Jacana's are eminently noisy! Along with the Jacana's generally charming appearance goes a voice with many songs - most of them raucous. In argument with its fellows, it chatters and chuckles. In flight it makes a sharp cackle. It calls out with a single, rasping note or emits a plaintive whistle. In some respects, it resembles the sound of a portable typewriter.
The Northern Jacana has a dark brown body with a black head and neck. In addition its bill has yellow patches and its forehead has a yellow wattle. Its bill has a white base. When a jacana is in flight, its yellowish-green primary and secondary feathers are visible. Also visible are yellow bony spurs on the leading edge of the wings, which it can use to defend itself and its young. The greenish colour of the wing feathers is produced by a pigment, rather rare in birds, called zooprasinin, a copper containing organic compound.
This slender bird attains a beak-to-tail length of 9"-10". With neck extended and long legs dangling, as it flies it flashes the yellow under pinion of its rounded wings. As it alights, it stretches high its wings before folding them neatly behind its back, tucking in the spurs at the crook of its wings.
There is no regular migration, but they do wander irregularly. They do seem to stray into Texas and with a good rainfall into Mexico and Belize.
At marshy ponds from Mexico to Panama, this odd shorebird is common. Its long toes allow it to run about on lily pads and other floating vegetation. When it flies, the feet trail behind it; on landing, it may hold the wings high for a moment, showing off the yellow flight feathers. This species has turned up several times in Texas, and has even nested there.
Very common in parts of its normal range, but could be vulnerable to loss of wetland habitat.
The Northern Jacana (Jesus Christ bird), typically forages on insects by walking about on mats of floating vegetation, picking them from ovules of water lilies. It also consumes snails, worms, small crabs, fish, mollusks, and seeds. The Jacana competes with birds of a similar diet like the Sora. They can also be found foraging on mud or open ground near water.
The breeding season is April and May of each year. A female jacana lives in a territory that encompasses the territories of 1-4 males. A male forms a pair bond with a female who will keep other females out of his territory. Pair bonds between the female and her males remain throughout the year, even outside of breeding. These relationships last until a male or female is replaced. The female maintains bonds with her mates though copulations and producing clutches for them, as well as protecting their territories and defending the eggs from predators. Monogamous pairs are sometimes observed among polyandrous groups. The jacana has a simultaneous polyandrous mating system. That is the female will mate with several males a day or form pair bonds with more than one male at a time. Because of the high energy costs of producing eggs, females are replaced more often than males. If water levels remain constant, jacanas can breed year round.
Males build the nests, while one female can have up to 4 different mates. A male may create several nests at different sites and the female will choose one that fits her fancy. The best nests are the ones that are the most dense and stable. The femal Jacana will lay her eggs in groupings of 4, each in a separate nest built by the male. Males do almost all the work of incubating the eggs and taking care of the young fledglings. The nest site usually on top of marsh vegetation, either standing or floating, in shallow water. The nest is usually a flimsy, simple open cup made of available plant material. As the male incubates the eggs, he will continue to add to the nest to strengthen it.
EGGS & INCUBATION
The female will lay a clutch of four brown eggs with black markings. These eggs usually measure around 1.18 by .091 inches. The male incubation the eggs for a period of 22-28 days. A femal will reluctantly incubate the eggs if a male doesn't have sufficent time to forage throughout the day due to rain and cool temperatures. A male performs when each egg hatches and stands next to the nest to peer into it. The males continues to incubate to remaining eggs while brooding the hatched chicks. When all the eggs have hatched, the male will dispose of the remaining egg shells.
Young Northern Jacana can be identified as gray-brown in color aove, and whitish below, with a distinctinve strip above the eye. They are downy, and leave nest within 1-2 days after hatching. The male typically tends to the young and will lead them to feeding sites, where the chicks will swim, dive and feed themselves shortly after they hatch. Males will brood the chicks for many weeks, while females may brood chicks when the male is away. Territorial defense for both males and females increase when the chicks are born. Males are intolerant of intruders in their territory and make calls to the female for help for predator defense. Females respond to every call the male makes and invests much interest in the safety of the chicks, despiete having little ineraction with them. Young fledglings will typically take to flight around 4 to 6 weeks of age, or 50 to 60 days (depending on the species).
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