Ranger Rick Little Bigfoot August 2016

Little Bigfoot

By Ellen Lambeth; photos by Lou Coetzer/Naturepl.com

Meet a baby bird that seems to be all fuzz and feet.

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Little Bigfoot here is an African jacana (juh-KAH-nuh). Jacanas are birds that hang out in wetlands. Eight different kinds live in tropical places around the world. And, like Little Bigfoot, all of them have very long toes with very long claws.

Even though jacanas are good swimmers and divers, they’re known mostly for their ability to “walk on water.” (Actually, they walk on lily pads and other plants on the water’s surface.)

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Super-big feet help spread out the weight of an animal’s body. For a jacana, that makes it possible to step lightly on floating plants without sinking. Skis on water or snow work the same way for people.

Usually, a male jacana makes the nest, using bits of water plants. He builds it out on the water, which helps keep it safe from predators that hunt on land. The marbled eggs and striped chicks blend in well with the plants. That makes them harder for other predators to notice.

For most kinds of birds, bare patches of belly skin keep eggs and chicks warm. But a jacana father keeps his eggs and chicks warm and dry under his wings. He also uses his wings to pick them up and carry them away. That comes in handy in cases of approaching enemies or a sinking nest.

Many young animals depend on their moms for care. But in a baby jacana’s world, it’s the dad that does all the work. He tends the eggs and raises the chicks by himself. Meanwhile, the mom lays batches of eggs for other dads to care for. She patrols the neighborhood but doesn’t help out with the kids.

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Jacanas sometimes will eat seeds, but they go mostly for insects, worms, snails, and other small water creatures. The birds hunt for their meals on, around, and under the floating plants they walk on. Male jacanas teach their young how it’s done. Soon enough, the chicks will have to make their own big-footed way in their watery world.



“Little Bigfoot” originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
(Click on each image above for a closer view of the story.)

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