Jacana in Anderson Park

small wading bird on lily pads
Comb-crested Jacana foraging on the lagoon in Anderson Park

Jacanas (family Jacanidae) have adapted to, and specialised in, one particular kind of habitat, shallow freshwater lakes and ponds with floating vegetation. They live right across the tropics, with various species in South and Central America, southern Africa, India and South-east Asia through to New Guinea and northern Australia. We only have one species in Australia, the Comb-crested Jacana, Irediparra gallinacea, and it is found in northern and eastern coastal areas from the WA-NT border to about Sydney.

They were new and exotic to me when I first came to Townsville from Victoria but are not too uncommon here; I’ve seen them on Ross River, for instance, and on the Town Common, and I spotted this one on the lagoon in Anderson Park, one of Townsville’s three Botanical Gardens. They don’t move very fast but they can still be hard to observe because they tend to stay well out from the edge of the water, where they are safer.

Jacana showing the extraordinary toes
Jacana showing its extraordinary toes

Their adaptation is in their feet. The toes are enormously exaggerated and spread their weight so widely that they can walk on floating lily pads or other water weeds and exploit the food available on them or just under the surface of the water. The penalty is that they are somewhat clumsy when walking anywhere and can’t fly as well as they otherwise might.

Comb-crested Jacana on lily pads
The Jacana is not very big – its body isn’t much bigger than the lotus bud behind it.

2 thoughts on “Jacana in Anderson Park”

  1. Love these pics. On a recent walk along the river, on the Aitkenvale side between the Nathan Street bridge and Aplins Weir, I was struck by the proliferation of jacanas, including what seemed to be family groups. It struck me that they must have had a very good breeding season, everywhere I looked there was another jacana, or several, all busily feeding close to the bank and not much disturbed by passing walkers and cyclists. I even saw two of them out on the grass beside the bike-path which seemed most unusual – from a distance I assumed they were plover as there were plenty of those, but as I got closer I could see they were of a much more slender build. Then they flew a couple of metres back to the river and, keeping my eye on them as I approached, could see they were unmistakeable jacanas. There were so many birds on the river, including a small number of green pygmy geese, that I resolved to go back with binoculars for a more leisurely birdwatching walk (as opposed to exercise walk) but cyclone Ita’s dumping of rain across the region will probably encourage them to scatter far and wide.

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