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09 Feb, 2023
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lily trotters

The Lily Trotters – Article by Gareth Jones

The Lily Trotters Of Nairobi National Park

We sat quietly at the Hyena Dam, after about 10 minutes of waiting the wildlife began to behave naturally. A pair of African Jacanas (Actophilornis Africanus) emerged from the reeds and trotted easily over the water lilies in search of food. Jacanas have several nicknames; “lily trotter” and “water walker” and even “Jesus bird” because they look like they are perhaps walking on water. Why would a bird have such funny looking feet? If he walked on land, those long toes would get in the way, however, the jacana walks quite easily on water lily pads, leaves and other plants that grow in the water. The long toes hold him up, kind of like snowshoes hold up a person who is walking on soft snow. These birds can fly but do not do so very often, they look rather clumsy in flight with their elongated feet hanging below. When they land they always flip up their wings. No one knows why!

Jacanas live on the surface of ponds where water lilies and other plants grow. They eat some plant food as well as the little water animals and insect larva that fasten themselves to plant stems and the underside of lily pads. Their normal diet consists mainly of insects, molluscs and other small animals found in lake habitats, as well as aquatic seeds. They always seem hungry… They are found in warm countries, mainly in southern and central Africa, parts of Asia, Australia and parts of the Americas. Jacanas are tropical birds and are therefore found throughout the tropical regions of the world, living predominantly in shallow lake areas, ponds and wetlands. There are eight known species of jacanas that come from the family ‘Jacanidae’, and males range from 15 to 39 cm in length and the females are slightly larger.

Jacanas are typically brown in colour with pointy beaks and are good swimmers and divers and can stay underwater for long periods of time. They build nests from plant material, that sit on floating or submerged vegetation. Jacana females lay approximately four shiny eggs that are camouflaged with different markings, and the male sits on them and looks after the chicks. Amazingly it is the male jacanas that raise the young and they can actually carry them under their wings.

I always find it a joy to see birds when driving in the park, God has created so much amazing diversity. So, remember to go into the Nairobi National Park with the attitude of “bird watching”. Take some time to sit quietly at a dam and encounter nature in a wonderfully different way, by letting nature come to you, instead of trying to chase after it. You just never know, you might just enjoy the sight of a lily trotter as you relax.


Lily Trotters
Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer
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