African Jacana at Sunset Dam in Kruger National Park
Bob and I were obliged to remain inside our car at Sunset Dam as is the case almost everywhere you go in Kruger National Park. Allowance is made for parking along one section of the shore, and it was from there that we had fantastic views of this African Jacana.
Using our binoculars, both Bob and I had our eyes trained on the far shore of the pond where a family of Hippopotamuses was basking in the sun. A flicker of movement next to the passenger-side door drew my attention to a pair of Sandpipers and this African Jacana. It was unmistakable with its remarkably blue bill and matching frontal shield that extends up over the bird’s crown.
The Sandpipers and African Jacana foraged side by side in the shallows even though a Nile Monitor lurked nearby on the bit of dried vegetation that littered the brown sand.
Nile Monitors are one of the known predators of African Jacana eggs and young. November is the mating season for these birds, the same month that we observed this Jacana, so it is doubtful that eggs were on site yet. Starting in December, though, the male Jacanas, the ones to incubate the eggs and raise the young, would have to be very dutiful.
As the African Jacana stepped gingerly on the soft sand, it was evident why these birds are able to walk on top of floating vegetation. Their long legs end in a set of very long toes that evenly distribute their weight over lily pads. It is even possible to see its long grey claws.
In the absence of floating vegetation on the pond at Sunset Dam, it gave me pause to wonder whether the invasive species known as Nutria or Coypu, a beaver-like rodent that destroys water lily plants, perhaps had found its way to this location. The African Jacana was content to search for insects, crabs, minnows or snails that might be found near the water line, but these birds are more often seen turning over the leaves of aquatic vegetation with their bills or toes when looking for food.
The African Jacana is a graceful wading bird with richly-coloured plumage that is the same for females and males with the females being the larger of the two sexes. It is thought that the bright blue frontal shield helps camouflage the birds because it blends in with the surface of the water as well as reflecting sunlight.
African Jacanas are excellent swimmers and divers capable of remaining underwater for quite a long period of time, made possible in some cases by holding the tip of the bill just clear of the water’s surface. It serves them well when moving from one area of vegetation to another within a pond or lake if predators are present.
African Jacanas are not very accomplished fliers, only taking to the air for short distances, and most of their lives is spent on the water striding across floating vegetation or raising their young in nests supported by lily pads. Remarkably, a male Jacana keeps the eggs warm and relocates them if necessary by tucking them under his wings. With all the activity at Sunset Dam, when this African Jacana wandered further afield, we turned our attention back to some bellowing Hippos.