Northern Jacana

Northern Jacana
Photo: Inge Curtis

The Northern Jacana is a pheasant-sized waterbird with long toes for walking on lily-pads. Found in Mexico and occasionally in Texas, there are other species in the tropics in the New and Old World.

Females are larger than males, a clue to behavior uncommon in birds (phalaropes an exception). Polyandry. Each female acquires a small ‘harem’ of males who make separate nests for her to lay eggs and they take care of them and the chicks. This is simultaneous polyandry as opposed to sequential polyandry in which a female mates with a series of males.

In rare cases where a female takes over the territory of another female, an emptied nest suggests that she destroyed the eggs or chicks. If corroborated, this is the first bird species in which the female practices infanticide as a reproductive strategy, and comparable to male lions who kill cubs not related to them when they take over a pride.

By Roger Gosden

British-born scientist specializing in reproduction & embryology. Career as professor & research director spanned from Cambridge to Cornell's Weill Medical College in NYC. Married to Lucinda Veeck Gosden, embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America. Retired early to Williamsburg, Virginia, to write and recover from 'nature deficit disorder'. Currently a visiting scholar at William & Mary.

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