Often seen walking across floating vegetation or the backs of hippos with its exceptionally long toes, the African Jacana is a species closely associated with permanent or seasonally flooded wetlands, pans, dams, ponds and rivers, with floating vegetation (especially waterlilies) and densely vegetated banks for cover. African Jacanas forage singly, in pairs or in family groups, sometimes gathering in small flocks, feeding on insects, worms, crustaceans and molluscs.
Male African Jacanas are highly territorial and, unlike most other kinds of birds, it is the male that is responsible for incubating the eggs and rearing the chicks – the female departs to find another mate as soon as the eggs have been laid, mating with several males over the course of the breeding season. While breeding has been recorded throughout the year there is a definite peak in the summer months. Three to five eggs are laid precariously on a platform of clammy plant material set down on floating vegetation, and incubated by the male alone for just over 3 weeks. The male then looks after the chicks for the next two months until they become independent. When they are small, the male picks up the chicks under his wings and carries them around. At an average of 140g, the male African Jacana is considerably more lightly built than the female (average 230g).
With a stable population, estimated at a million birds, distributed over most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the IUCN considers the African Jacana as being of least concern. In South Africa they occur widely and commonly in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal, is less commonly encountered in the Free State, North West, Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, and almost entirely absent from the Northern Cape.