Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Hydrophasianus chirurgus

Last updated: October 12, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Tahirsphotography/Shutterstock.com

The pheasant-tailed jacana is the only species in its family that migrates long distances.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Charadriiformes
Family
Jacanidae
Genus
Hydrophasianus
Scientific Name
Hydrophasianus chirurgus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Conservation Status

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Locations

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Locations

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Facts

Prey
Insects, small fish, snails, worms, crabs, mollusks, and seeds.
Main Prey
Aquatic insects
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Social
Fun Fact
The pheasant-tailed jacana is the only species in its family that migrates long distances.
Estimated Population Size
Less than 100,000
Biggest Threat
Habitat destruction
Most Distinctive Feature
White wings with black tips
Distinctive Feature
Different breeding plumage
Wingspan
9 inches
Incubation Period
25 to 29 days
Age Of Fledgling
2 months
Habitat
Freshwater wetlands
Predators
snakes, turtles, large fish, various mammals, crocodiles, and birds of prey.
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
Pheasant-tailed jacana
Location
Southeast Asia
Nesting Location
floating aquatic vegetation
Migratory
1

Pheasant-tailed Jacana Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Black
  • White
  • Gold
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
4.8 years on average
Weight
4 to 7 ounces
Length
17 to 22 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
2 years

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“They are the only jacanas that migrate long distances.”

Summary

The pheasant-tailed jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) is a large wader from Southeast Asia. They inhabit wetlands and large lakes where they spend their time walking across floating aquatic vegetation, gleaning insects from plants or the water’s surface. This jacana species is unique from others in its family due to its propensity for long-distance travel and variations in its breeding plumage. Find out everything there is to know about this fascinating tropical wader, including where they live, how they reproduce, and what they eat.

5 Amazing Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Facts

  • The pheasant-tailed jacana is the only species in its family that migrates long distances.
  • They are strong fliers with rapid wingbeats, which is unusual for jacanas.
  • This bird showcases different plumage during the breeding season and includes a long tail.
  • People have spotted these birds as far south as Australia.
  • Populations in Eastern China face habitat destruction of their wetland homes.

Where to Find the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana

The pheasant-tailed jacana lives in Southeast Asia in 22 countries, including India, China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines. Most populations are residents in their environments. But those living in more northern regions like the Himalayas will migrate south into lower elevations during winter. They inhabit significant freshwater wetlands, lakes, and ponds, especially those with abundant aquatic vegetation like water lilies.

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Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Nest

Males make loosely-constructed platforms on floating aquatic vegetation. Occasionally they add plants around the eggs as nesting material to help conceal them. He will move his eggs to a drier location if the nest becomes flooded.

Scientific Name

The pheasant-tailed jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus) is from the Charadriiformes order, which contains 390 bird species that live near water and eat invertebrates. Its Jacanidae family encompasses the jacanas, a group of tropical waders. This species is in the monotypic Hydrophasianus genus. The genus means “water pheasant.”

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

Pheasant-Tailed Jacana
The pheasant-tailed jacana is a large wader and the longest species in the jacana family. They measure 17 to 22 inches long and weigh four to seven ounces, with a 9-inch wingspan.

Wang LiQiang/Shutterstock.com

The pheasant-tailed jacana is a large wader and the longest species in the jacana family. They measure 17 to 22 inches long and weigh four to seven ounces, with a 9-inch wingspan. This species showcases different plumage during the breeding season. Its breeding plumage consists of long tail feathers, dark brown bodies, white faces, and a black crown with white stripes running down the sides of its neck. Its wings are white with black tips. Their tails are much shorter outside of the breeding season. Its upper parts are greenish-brown, and its neck sides are a dull golden-yellow. There is also a dark brown band that wraps around its neck.

Its calls are loud mewing or nasal sounds, which they make among their wintering flocks. This species is relatively social, often found in communities of up to 100. Unlike other jacanas, the pheasant-tailed is a strong flier that produces rapid wing beats and can travel long distances.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Pheasant-tailed jacanas are the only jacanas that travel long distances. Most populations are sedentary, but those found in northern regions, like the Himilayas, will migrate to Southeast Asia and India. This jacana has been seen as far south as Australia. They leave in November and return mid to late April.

Diet

Pheasant-tailed jacanas are carnivores who primarily eat insects.

What Does the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana Eat?

Aquatic insects are their main prey, but they will also consume small fish, snails, worms, crabs, mollusks, and seeds. They forage for food by walking across floating vegetation and gleaning insects off aquatic plants, occasionally picking seeds from water lilies.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the pheasant-tailed jacana as LC or “least concern.” Due to its extensive range and relatively large population size, this species does not meet the “threatened” status thresholds. These jacanas are not globally threatened, but some populations in Eastern China face habitat destruction and degradation of their wetland homes. 

What Eats the Pheasant-Tailed Jacana?

Their most significant predators include snakes, turtles, large fish, various mammals, crocodiles, and birds of prey. This species is highly susceptible to nest predation from many creatures, and fathers are very protective of their young. To defend themselves and their young, adults make loud alarm calls, perform threat displays, and use their bony wing spurs to attack intruders.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Breeding season occurs during summer in the northern regions of its range but coincides with monsoon season from India to Southeast Asia. Most jacanas participate in a polyandrous mating system, where the females lay egg clutches with multiple partners and the males bear all the responsibility of raising the young. Males will destroy egg clutches when they question their paternity. Females lay between one to four eggs, and the males incubate them for 25 to 29 days—the young stay with their father for up to two months. Pheasant-tailed jacanas become sexually mature around two years old and have an average lifespan of 4.8 years.

Population

The global pheasant-tailed jacana population is estimated to be less than 100,000 individuals. While there are no extreme fluctuations or fragmentations in their numbers, their population is undergoing a decline due to habitat destruction.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Pheasant-tailed Jacana FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where do pheasant-tailed jacana live?

The pheasant-tailed jacana lives in Southeast Asia in 22 countries, including India, China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines.

How big is the pheasant-tailed jacana?

The pheasant-tailed jacana is a large wader and the longest species in the jacana family. They measure 17 to 22 inches long and weigh four to seven ounces, with a 9-inch wingspan.

How does the pheasant-tailed jacana behave?

Its calls are loud mewing or nasal sounds, which they make among their wintering flocks. This species is relatively social, often found in communities of up to 100.

Do pheasant-tailed jacanas migrate?

Pheasant-tailed jacanas are the only jacanas that travel long distances. Most populations are sedentary, but those found in northern regions, like the Himilayas, will migrate to Southeast Asia and India.

What do pheasant-tailed jacanas eat?

Aquatic insects are their main prey, but they will also consume small fish, snails, worms, crabs, mollusks, and seeds.

What threatens the pheasant-tailed jacana?

These jacanas are not globally threatened, but some populations in Eastern China face habitat destruction and degradation of their wetland homes.

What are pheasant-tailed jacana predators?

Their most significant predators include snakes, turtles, large fish, various mammals, crocodiles, and birds of prey.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Red List / BirdLife International, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22693543/93411790
  2. Journal of Natural History Volume 42 / , Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00222930802389817
  3. Journal of Bioresource Management / Khan, Z. I., & Mughal, M. S., Available here: https://corescholar.libraries.wright.edu/jbm/vol1/iss2/5/
  4. BioOne Complete / Waterbirds 44 / Chandima Fernando, Sarath W. Kotagama, Anthony R. Rendall, Michael A. Weston, Available here: https://bioone.org/journals/waterbirds/volume-44/issue-3/063.044.0311/Defense-of-Eggs-and-Chicks-in-the-Polyandrous-Pheasant-Tailed/10.1675/063.044.0311.short
  5. SpringerLink / Wetlands Ecology & Management, Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11273-007-9045-7

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