Comb-crested Jacana

A Comb-crested Jacana walking on lily pads
Comb-crested Jacana standing in water lily pad surrounded by water-liles

Typical habitat for the Comb-crested Jacana

Scientific Name: Irediparra gallinacea

Size: 20 to 27 cm

What does it look like?

The Comb-crested Jacana has a red fleshy forehead comb, a black crown, back and breast and brown wings. The belly, face and throat are white, and there is a faint yellow tinge around the eye and throat. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but the female is larger than the male, and is slightly brighter in colour.

Young Jacanas resemble the adult birds, but are rufous to black on the head and nape, and have a rufous-black breast band. The red fleshy comb is much smaller and darker.

Where is it found?

They occupy coastal and subcoastal regions from the Kimberleys, WA, through northern Australia to about Grafton, NSW. They are more common in the north of their range.

Comb-crested Jacanas will move to new locations, particularly in response to changes in their current habitat, such as droughts or excessive flooding. The species also occurs in New Guinea, Indonesia and the Phillipines.

What are its habitats & habits?

Comb-crested Jacanas are found in tropical and subtropical freshwater wetlands, including lagoons, billabongs, swamps, lakes, rivers, sewage ponds and dams, providing there is adequate floating vegetation.

The Comb-crested Jacana feeds on aquatic insects, which it seizes from floating vegetation or the surface of the water. It also feeds on seeds and aquatic plants. Birds almost never come to shore. When searching for food, the Comb-crested Jacana bobs its head and flicks its tailed continuously.

Comb-crested Jacanas breed from September to May (later in the north than in the east). The female Jacana may mate with several males, while the male alone builds the nest, incubates the eggs and cares for the young. If danger threatens the young birds, the male has the curious habit of picking the chicks up under his wings and carrying them off to safety.

Interesting facts

At a distance, the Comb-crested Jacana appears to have the ability to walk on water. In fact, it is walking on floating plants. It is able to do this due to its extremely long toes, which help spread its body weight over a larger area. This ability has given the species the alternative names of “Christbird” and “Lilytrotter”. In flight, the long legs and toes trail behind the body.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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