home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Actophilornis africanus (African jacana) 

Grootlangtoon [Afrikaans]; iThandaluzibo, uNondwayiza [Zulu]; Nkongoro [Kwangali]; Lelie-loper [Dutch]; Jacana à poitrine dorée [French]; Blaustirn-blatthühnchen, Jacana [German]; Jacana-africana [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Jacanidae

Actophilornis africanus (African jacana)  Actophilornis africanus (African jacana) 
African jacana. [photo Tony Faria ©] African jacana foraging. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is locally abundant in northern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and eastern South Africa, while more scarce elsewhere in Namibia and South Africa. It generally prefers shallow, freshwater wetlands and margins of slow-flowing rivers with low vegetation, especially areas dominated by water-lilies (Nymphaea), Willowherb (Ludwigia stolonifera), pondweeds (Potomogeton) and hornwarts (Ceratophyllium).

Distribution of African jacana in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Highly nomadic, often moving in search of new temporary wetlands.

Predators and parasites


It mainly eats insects, doing most of its foraging on floating vegetation, walking or running with its large feet while plucking prey from plants and the water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Sequentially polyandrous, meaning that one female mates with multiple males over the course of one breeding season. It is highly territorial, as males fight each other for control of prime breeding territory, displaying and calling from a calling post made by pulling a few plant stems together.
  • The nest (see images below) is a flimsy, damp heap of aquatic plant stems, in fact the eggs are often just 2 cm above the water surface. It is typically placed out in the open or concealed by vegetation, especially Willowherb (Ludwigia stolinifera). Due to their close proximity to the water surface the brood are vulnerable to changing water levels, which can cause the breeding pair to hastily assemble a new platform to move the young or eggs to.
Actophilornis africanus (African jacana)  Actophilornis africanus (African jacana) 
African jacana at nest, with chick and egg. [photo Andre du Toit ©] African jacana with chicks. [photo Andre du Toit ©]
Actophilornis africanus (African jacana) Actophilornis africanus (African jacana)

African jacana at its nest, Nylsvley, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from November-March.
  • It lays 3-5, usually 4 eggs, which are incubated solely by the male for about 23-27 days.
  • The chicks are cared for by the male only, leaving the nest within four hours of hatching. They are often carried under the males for up to 18 days, in fact when they are small the male can fit up to four chicks under its wings. They take their first flight at about 39-44 days old, becoming independent at 40-50 days old. 


Not threatened, as its distribution has remained largely unchanged for the past century.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.