Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Pheasant-tailed Jacana

I found this Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) in non-breeding form at Mallyadi Bird Sanctuary near Kundapura last February. I was using my Canon EOS 5D mark II with Canon EF 300mm f/4.0 L IS USM attached with Canon EF 1.4x II Extender to photograph this beautiful bird.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) is the only member of the Jacana family to have different plumages for the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Distributed on the Indian subcontinent and from Central China through South East Asia, Afghanistan and as far as Java and the Philippines. Resident on lakes, marshes and ponds where it feeds on invertebrates, frogs and fish. Jacanas are a group of waders in the family Jacanidae that are identifiable by their huge feet and claws which enable them to walk on floating vegetation in shallow lakes, their preferred habitat. The Pheasant-tailed Jacana is capable of swimming, although it usually walks on the vegetation.

It is conspicuous in the breeding season because of the long pheasant-like tail of these birds. The plumage is blackish-brown with white head and neck. On the nape of the neck there is a yellow mark. Its wings are dazzlingly white in flight. Females are slightly larger than males with similar but brighter colours. Non-breeding adults lack the long tail. The underparts are white except for a brown breast band and neck stripe. The side of the neck is golden.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Pheasant-tailed Jacana

In the breeding season, they grow the 15cm (6″) arching tail, to which the bird owes its name. A female may mate with up to ten males, each of which incubates a clutch and raises his own brood. The female is able to present her males with a full clutch of 4 eggs at intervals of 9-12 days. Each male is visited twice in succession giving a total of 6-8 clutches or 24-36 eggs in a year.

The cocks were seen to approach the clutch with great care and carefully to preen, especially the breast feathers, so that they are quite dry and airy for the brood. Then he spreads his pale-green legs and lowers his breast slowly while supporting himself on his wings. He pushes the eggs together under his belly with the wings and, swaying from side to side, scoops the eggs up from the wet ground with his white wings so that they lie warm and protected between his breast and underside of the wings.

After torrents of rain and rising water levels, this jacana moves its nesting site. If disturbed, the eggs are moved to previously built nests at new sites. Moves have been observed in July and August. The distance moved is 1-15m. It is a common but not regular and on occasion seen to occur 3-4 times with the same clutch.

After the first chick is hatched, it is not easy for the cock to remain sitting firmly on the clutch; his changed position, higher and looser tells the experienced observer that some hatching has taken place.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Pheasant-tailed Jacana

If one approached the nest, the chicks, when only a few hours old, will leave the nest slowly and hide under leaf or among water plants where they remain motionless with only their beaks above the water surface.

About 2-3 times an hour, the father gathers the chicks together at a suitable place such as a lotus leaf on the water or on somewhat firmer ground – there he broods them under his abdomen or his wings. First, with legs spread out and bending his legs, he slowly lowers his body. Then he raises his wings slightly and with them protects the chicks as they snuggle up to him. Such a comforting rest period of 5-10 minutes breaks up the strenuous foraging for food. The cock can hold the brood between body and wing in such a way that they are practically carried with their legs dangling freely.

Their call is a mewing me-onp and a nasal teeun

EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 21 February, 2010 | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 200 | Location : 13° 33′ 11.256840029579″ N 74° 42′ 53.469720101781″ E | Shutter speed : 1/640s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 21 February, 2010 | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 200 | Location : 13° 33′ 11.256840029579″ N 74° 42′ 53.469720101781″ E | Shutter speed : 1/640s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 21 February, 2010 | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 200 | Location : 13° 33′ 11.256840029579″ N 74° 42′ 53.469720101781″ E | Shutter speed : 1/640s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.

6 thoughts on “Pheasant-tailed Jacana

  1. “Jacanas are identifiable by their huge feet and claws which enable them to walk on floating vegetation in shallow lakes, their preferred habitat”

    Actually when I just read the title ‘Jacana’, the first thing that came to my mind that it has the ability to walk on floating vegetation. I had read about this ability of Jacana in a children’s book more than 10 years ago when I was a kid. The title brought back just that part from my brain’s archival section. So just went through what u wrote searching for that particular trait and there it was. 🙂

  2. Wondering why you highlight male tail re the name when both have long tails and the female’s is usually the longer corresponding with, as you rightly point out, their larger size. More curving also.

  3. Dear Joanna, Thanks for pointing out my mistake. I was meant to say the adult breeding plumage was different. I wrote just the male plumage was different, which is wrong as both develop longer tail feathers during breeding season. I have edited the same in the text. Thank you.

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