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How Do You Say Jacana?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cruel March hangs around
A greedy lion guarding
April's still carcass.

Silly of April 
to lie down with a lion. 
Lambs should know better.

Today's return from the 70's to the 40's, with this spring's ever-present cold rain, inspired a haikupalooza from me. I'm sure my Facebook friends are rolling their collective eyes. I can't help it. Some days I think in haikus. So disgusting is this weather that I'm going back to Lake Yojoa, Honduras. Come along with me and watch jacanas.

Jacanas. The bird nobody knows how to pronounce. Most Americans say "juh-KAH-nuh" which is kind of like saying "Fah-JEYE-Tah" at a Mexican restaurant when you're trying to order a flaming skillet of meat and vegetables.

So lemme tell you how it's pronounced. I lived in Brazil's Amazon region for six months, and the jacana's name is a Tupi Indian word, and down there they pronounce it zhuh-sah-NAH which is a very pretty, sort of slurry Portuguese way to say it. It fits the bird so much better than our hard, fricative style.
Jacanas are completely amazing birds, especially in flight. They unfurl those chartreuse wings and you immediately think WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?? I would love to know the adaptive significance of chartreuse wings. I guess it's a social signaling thing, to be seen at great distances over marsh grass? It makes me wonder if jacanas taste awful, because they're so darned obvious and would seem to be such easy prey for an aerial predator, for instance. Has anyone ever seen anything eating a jacana? Crocs and gators and caimans, no doubt.

If I'd had the slightest bit of light these might have been  cool pictures. I like the herringbone water. This is a juvenile northern jacana, distinguished by white underparts and brownish uppers.
Gorgeous little things. The ridiculously long toes distribute the bird's weight as it moves over floating vegetation, giving it the common name "lily trotter."

I was so happy to get this shot of the northern jacana's weird candy-corn orange wing spurs. Who knows what those are for? Battle? Decoration? A relic left over from the days of Archaeopteryx? They're right on the bend of the wrist, where a bird could use them to strike a telling blow. I wanted to sit there on the shore of Lake Yojoa until I saw a jacana use its spurs, but I never got that lucky.
Most people don't know that, in addition to having fabulous toes and spur bling, the jacana has reversed sex roles. A female jacana may mate with as many as four males, who will then incubate her eggs and raise her young for her.

Cool, with a bullet. Obviously, the jacanas got together with the phalaropes and voted to turn things upside down.

I especially love the picotee edging of black around each flight feather. This little shot of melanin strengthens the pale feathers and keeps them from wearing too fast. You'll see this on many birds with otherwise white primaries--magpies have the black edge, and snow geese and white ibis and whooping cranes and storks all have the business feathers, the main primaries that act as their propellers, dipped in black.
What fun I had, banging away with the 300 mm. on the shore of Lake Yojoa, Honduras, appreciating northern jacanas. Now everybody together say: zha-sah-NAH.
Try blurting that at your next birding outing. And when everybody looks at you like you're from the moon, blame me. But smile, knowing you've got it right.


And I love the way every and any time I read a Zickefoose post, I learn something.
I should be ready for my diploma anytime now.
Thanks, prof.

It seems the best wildlife events happen during low light moments, teasing us into carrying our camera at dusk for such things as woodcock mating. As usual, you did a great job with the jacana. I'm glad for the pronunciation explantation.

Top of my Santa list: an f1.4 300mm that weighs less than 2 lbs. And a Maserati.

I love the Honduras posts. I wanted to go to that Mesoamerican Festival but I couldn't get my work schedule to compromise. Tried again this year to visit but the flights went up.

Maybe one day it will happen, but until then, I'm glad I have your Honduras tales to wallow in.

Thanks for the delayed write-ups!

Duties at the nest
Are reserved for the father
Of Painted Snipe chicks.

How do you say Yojoa?

you realize that you're planting ideas and false hopes in the minds of females everywhere...

Donna, Thank YOU!

Eva: You must look up Corey's posts on 10,000 Birds. He did it up right! Just put "Honduras" in the search box at

FC--Ha! It's Yo HOE-ah. Not My HOE-ah.

Redgannet: Love it! but warning: Haiku can become a sickness. I should know.

Cyberthrush: I've heard tell of housedads, but have only seen one or two.

For pinheads, here's a taxonomic examination of wing spurs. I note with some satisfaction that they don't know what they're for, either. Thanks to Sheri Williamson for the link:

Oh, rot. I'm a moron.

You made me homesick to return to two wonderful places. A river in Mexico when I paddled past a jacana and Choke Canyon State Park here in Texas where I went especially to see the norther jacana we had visiting. Then I got to meet it again when we went for our annual birding and paddling trip each February.

Thanks for the information. I didn't know any of that.

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