African Jacana Fact File

Actophilornis africanus

Credit: Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons








Wild 5-10 years

Captive 5-10 years




Conservation Status


Least Concern

A Bird That Can Walk On Water!

The African jacana is able to walk on water by crossing lilypads. This is made possible by their long, slender toes which distribute their weight evenly across the surface.

They spend their time searching out insects which they can pick up with their short beak.

Females will command a harem of males with which they mate. She deposits eggs in to his nest and then leaves him alone to care for the eggs and raise the chicks.

This species is threatened by destruction of their habitat primarily to build hydroelectric dams and through overgrazing by stock.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the African Jacana look like?

The African jacana is most notable for the large toes which are present on their feet. These are used to spread their weight across a surface and means they can walk on aquatic vegetation which is sitting on the water's surface.

These legs and feet are colored grey. Their iris is colored brown.

Across the body the African jacana has chestnut brown feathers. This turns to white on the underside and sides of the neck with black running along the back. This black patch becomes a crown on the head and continues as a black stripe across the eye. Sitting behind the beak is a small patch of purple feathers.

Their short bill is colored blue.

An average individual will measure 30cm (12in) long with a weight between 137 and 261g (4.8-9.2oz). Their wingspan is up to 50cm (20in) across. Females tend to be larger than the males, sometimes by twice as much.


How does the African Jacana survive in its habitat?

Their large toes help to distribute their weight as they walk across lily pads. This adaptation gives them the ability to access areas of food where others birds are unable to go.

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What does the African Jacana eat?

This species is a carnivore which will feed on a range of invertebrates. Crustaceans, molluscs and small amounts of seed may also be consumed.

They have been seen to land on buffalo and hippopotamus and forage insects living on their skin.

Learn more about the African Jacana in this video from Selous Safari Company on YouTube


Where do you find the African Jacana?

Africa is the native home of the African jacana. Here they can be found across Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Out of the eight species of jacana only two are found on the African mainland with the other being the lesser jacana.


Where can the African Jacana survive?

This species is associated with water with most individuals found near a permanent or semi-permanent wetland. They require two main components of their habitat, water lilies on which they can nest and small shrubs in which they can seek shelter.

They will also make use of ponds and dams.

African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus)

Credit: Chris Eason, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


How does the African Jacana produce its young?

Where a watercourse is permanent they will breed year round but it can be seasonal if the wetland is.

Unlike most species of bird the male is responsible for rearing the chicks. Females move between nests mating with multiple males and deposits her eggs before moving on to the next. Females have been seen to lay outside the nest and a male then gathers the eggs and moves them to his.

Females maintain a territory and when they take on a new one they may kill any chicks which is not theirs.

Each clutch can include between 2 and 5 eggs which are tan in color.

Nest sites are located near the water's edge and over the 2-3 week incubation period many are lost to flooding. As they breed in a hot environment they will often shade the eggs rather than incubate them.

Their nest is a loose pad of semi-submerged vegetation.

After the chicks hatch the male will gather the eggshell and take it out of the nest.

The male is able to pick up the chick under his wing and can carry it around until it can fly on its own. They first undertake a flight at 7 weeks old.

Sexual maturity is reached at one year old.


What does the African Jacana do during its day?

These birds make a mournful, whining sound during take off and landing. Their alarm call is a loud screech. In flight they may produce a rattling screech.

They will gather in large groups at watering holes. These animals are nomadic and will move around during periods of drought to find food.

African jacanas molt their feathers in one go each year and during this period are unable to fly.

African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus)

Credit: Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What stops the African Jacana from surviving and thriving?

When threatened this species is able to go underwater and expose just the tip of their bill to keep breathing.

Populations of the African jacana are considered stable and may include up to 1,000,000 individuals.

The primary threat to their ongoing survival is habitat loss and destruction with an emerging threat being the development of hydroelectric power. Overgrazing by stock also affects their habitat.

Introduced species such as nutria feed on water lilies and are removing suitable habitat.

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Quick facts

This species may also be known as the lily walker or Jesus bird due to their ability to walk across aquatic vegetation.

African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus)

Credit: Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

Christiansen, P., 2019. Birds. London: Amber Books Ltd.

Pairi Daiza. 2022. African Jacana. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2022]. 2022. African Jacana - Birds - South Africa. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2022].

Bird Fact. 2022. African Jacana Bird Facts (Actophilornis africanus). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2022].

Bouglouan, N., 2022. African Jacana. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2022]. 2022. Jacana | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 March 2022].

BirdLife International. 2016. Actophilornis africanusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22693528A93410506. Accessed on 26 March 2022.

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