Northern jacana

This mysterious bird which can walk on water

Hans Hillewaert

The Northern Jacana is a fascinating wading bird species that boasts a wide distribution across various regions of the Americas. From coastal Mexico to western Panama, as well as in the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola, these birds can be found as resident breeders, making them a common sight in wetland habitats throughout their range.

Interestingly, the Northern Jacana has also been documented as a vagrant in unexpected locations, such as Arizona in the United States, where it has been observed on multiple occasions. In addition, breeding populations have been known to exist in states like Texas, adding to the diversity of avian species found in North America.

One of the most remarkable features of the Northern Jacana is its unique adaptation for navigating its watery habitats. Jacanas, as a genus of wetland birds, are distinguished by their disproportionately large feet and long, slender toes, which are equipped with sharp claws. These specialized feet enable them to walk on floating vegetation, such as water lilies and other aquatic plants, with remarkable ease. This ability has earned them the affectionate nickname of the “Jesus bird” in Jamaica, where locals marvel at their seemingly miraculous ability to walk on water.

In addition to their remarkable locomotion, Northern Jacanas exhibit interesting breeding behaviors. They construct floating nests among the vegetation, where they lay their eggs and raise their young. Both male and female jacanas participate in incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks, demonstrating a cooperative breeding strategy that is characteristic of many wetland bird species.

Despite their adaptability and widespread distribution, Northern Jacanas face threats from habitat loss and degradation, as wetlands continue to be drained or converted for agricultural and urban development.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Belize
2020
Costa Rica
2020
Cuba
2020
Dominican Republic
2020
El Salvador
2020
Guatemala
2020
Haiti
2020
Honduras
2020
Jamaica
2020
Mexico
2020
Nicaragua
2020
Panama
2020
United States
2020
Vagrant

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No