I’m glad I got your attention. An evocative heading will do that. However, I’m unfortunately not going to be giving any advice or techniques to use in the local pub to chat up the fairer sex. I’m certainly not qualified to do such a thing.
I will though, be discussing one of the best pic-up artists in the bush. Some may be thinking it’s the magnificent male lion with his massive muscles and majestic mane, or possibly the handsome kudu bull, with his huge horns, but it’s not. It happens to be a small bird that we see quite often at Londolozi – the African Jacana.

When we use the term pick-up artist, most of us will immediately imagine a suave looking gentleman with slick back hair and a leather jacket. Again, this is not how I’m intending the term. I’m using the term in very much a literal sense, to actually pick up things. That is why, in my opinion, the African Jacana is one of the masters of it out here.

The beautiful African Jacana takes shelter form the wind on a bed of vegetation in the dam outside Varty Camp.

When we look at the breeding strategies of many of the creatures in the bush, we start to notice a bit of a trend – lots of single mothers! In many species, the males are just there to mate, and then leave. They do sometimes stay and have a direct role in the up bringing of the young – sometimes only a very indirect role – but most of the time they are nowhere to be seen. There are a few exceptions to these generalised rules though, and most of the time it comes from our feathered friends in the bird family. Here we see something called polyandry. It’s a big word, but not too confusing. What happens here is the female has multiple sexual partners, and in the case of the African Jacana, she will hang stay the male after mating until she lays the eggs, then she leaves herself to find another mate, leaving the male as a single dad.

The male African Jacana keeps a watchful eye on his chicks as they feed on the floating vegetation.

The little chicks are extremely well camouflaged, if you look just to the left of the male you will see one of the little chicks.

Some may ask the question, “Why?”. It’s actually quite a good breeding strategy. The Jacana may breed throughout the year, with peaks in the summer months. In this time the female will find a male, mate with him, wait with him to lay the eggs, and then move on, leaving him in charge of the eggs. She then finds another male, and repeats the process. She may be able to do this up to 7 times in a season. This would mean there are a number of broods that have the chance of survival and continuing the species in a season. The eggs are laid in a nest that is built on floating vegetation, and is therefore very exposed to predators. Hence the necessity of numerous male partners for the female, increasing the chance of a successful brood.

The Jacana has extremely long toes and a very light body. This allows them to walk over the vegetation that floats without sinking.

The male has a constant eye on his chicks in order to keep them safe. Here again one can see how impressive the chick’s camouflage is.

Going back to the pick-up artist. As I’ve mentioned, its not the male’s ability to successfully attract the female attention, but the more literal sense in picking up something. When the chicks hatch they are tiny, and therefore a nice meal for something like a monitor lizard or a snake. The male has developed an amazing trick to help protect his young. When he feels threatened, he squawks loudly and opens his wings. At this point the little chicks that are feeding around him run towards him and seek shelter under his wings. He then closes his wings and hides the youngsters underneath them. If the threat is great enough, he may even run off with his little ones tucked under his wings. Its an awesome sight to see, a male bird running off with what seems to be six extra feet. When he feels its safe he opens his wings and the little ones fall out and carry on unperturbed.

The male Jacana senses danger and calls the chicks in. He tucks them away safely under his wings. If one look very closely at his legs, you will notice another two sets sticking out from under his wings.

Again, if you look very closely, you will see the little legs of the chicks sticking out from under his wings.

It is amazing survival tactics like these that fascinate me in the bush on a daily basis. Its not always the sharp teeth and massive claws that are used to ward off predators; sometimes its as easy as spreading your wings and just simply picking up your chicks.

Filed under Birds Wildlife

About the Author

Kevin Power

Field Guide

Kevin hails from the small town of George, but we try not to hold that against him... After obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Finance at the University of Stellenbosch, Kev realised that town life wasn't for him for the moment, and ...

More stories by Kevin

3 Comments

on Picking up Chicks in the Bush
    Lea says:

    Very interesting blog Kevin. Thank You. Mother Nature is simply amazing.

    Judy Boch says:

    Great blog, Kevin! Sometimes we are so focused on the big animals we never think to look at and focus on the other wonderful species at Londolozi!

    Gawie Jordaan says:

    Absolutely Loved the BLOG! I learned something new today about a Jacana. Thank you

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