SPOTTED: A comb-crested Jacana.
SPOTTED: A comb-crested Jacana. Vic Jakes

This bird loves walking on water in Noosa

MY DAILY daily dog-walking routine takes me past a series of small lagoons immediately adjacent to the road. A few mornings ago, a movement in the reeds warranted use of my binoculars, revealing a jacana tiptoeing across the lily pads.

I then saw three more birds, all of them juveniles, and could only conclude that, this year, the jacanas had chosen this small body of water on which to breed.

What a spectacular and very unusual bird this is. The comb-crested jacana, Irediparra gallinacean, is known also as the lotusbird, the lilytrotter and even, by some, as the Jesus bird, for its ability, apparently, to 'walk on water'.

In fact, it is its massive toes, about 75 millimetres long, that allow the bird to spread its weight across the lily leaves of its preferred wetland habitat and thereby give the appearance of walking across the water surface.

In flight, the out-of-proportion legs and toes must, perforce, trail out behind but these odd bodily features do enable the bird to thrive well in a wetland habitat where other birds might struggle to do so.

The jacanas are active by day, feeding on aquatic plants, seeds and insects and are readily dispersive, moving from one wetland site to another in response to the conditions. This can mean that, at times, they turn up well beyond their normal range.

Being so well adapted to its wetland environment, our remarkable bird even builds its flimsy nest on the floating vegetation where three or four well camouflaged eggs - brown but thickly covered with black marks and dark brown 'squiggles' - are laid.

If a nest is threatened, jacanas may move the eggs to an alternate nest by carrying them under their chin. While the female jacana may mate with several males, it is believed that only males undertake incubation duties. An alarm call from a parent will see a chick dive into the water and hide under vegetation, with only the tip of its bill above the water line. If absolutely necessary, any vulnerable youngster can be carried to safety, tucked under a parent's wing.

The male adult Jacana is normally 20-22 centimetres in length, whilst the female is slightly larger at up to 27 centimetres. Each has a grey-brown back and upper wing.

The crown, hind neck and broad chest band are black. The throat is white shading to buff and the underparts are white. A prominent bright red comb, which occasionally turns yellow if the bird is very excited, completes the adult appearance. This comb has not yet fully developed on the juvenile jacana seen in this image.

Careful observation of appropriate habitat in the Noosa area will at times be rewarded - so keep your eyes peeled.

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